Last Friday, Turkey invaded Iraq.
That sounds more dramatic than it actually was. Turkey sent around 150 soldiers and two dozens tanks to Bashiqa, just northeast of Mosul in what Ankara described as an effort to replace an existing contingent of around 90 troops that have supposedly been on a “training” mission with the Peshmerga for the better part of two years.
As we documented over the weekend, this is hardly the first time the Turks have entered the country.
However, the circumstances are quite different this time around. That is, this isn't a anti-terror mission aimed at tracking the PKK. Over the weekend, we asked if Turkey was simply trying to protect lucrative oil smuggling routes run by both ISIS and the KRG. On Sunday, an angry Iraq gave Ankara 48 hours to withdraw the troops - or else.
Ok, or else what? Or else Iran’s Shiite militias will hunt them down and kill them according to a statement from Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. On top of that, at least one influential Shiite politician (the infamous Moktada al-Sadr-linked Hakim al-Zamili) wants PM Abadi to appeal to Moscow for “direct military intervention.”
Baghdad is also set to appeal to the Security Council. But when it comes to being belligerent, Erdogan is right up there with the best of them, which is why we weren’t at all surprised to learn that Turkey is refusing to pull its troops out of Iraq. On Tuesday, the Turkish foreign ministry said that while it would halt the deployment (there are now as many as 300 Turkish boots on the ground at Bashiqa) Ankara would not comply with Baghdad’s demands regarding the withdrawal of the troops and tanks.
“The arrival of a heavily armed Turkish contingent at a camp near the frontline close to the city of Mosul has added yet another controversial deployment to a war against Islamic State that has drawn in most of the world's major powers,” Reuters notes. “Russia, already furious after Turkey shot down one of its jets flying a sortie over Syria last month, said it considered the presence of the Turkish forces in Iraq illegal.”
And Russia is correct. Iraq is a sovereign state and the Turks were most certainly not invited which means that by definition, what Ankara is doing is illegal. Hilariously, Turkey contends that Baghdad did invite them - it’s just that Iraq doesn’t remember doing it. "Training at this camp began with the knowledge of the Iraqi Defence Ministry and police," Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu says. Iraq says no such agreement exists.
Still more absurd is Davutoglu’s contention that it is in fact Baghdad who's being “provocative.” "Those who make different interpretations of the Turkish military presence in Mosul are involved in deliberate provocation," he claims.
So breaking that down, Turkey deploys 300 troops and 21 tanks to a sovereign country without that country’s permission, then tries to claim that the “host” country agreed to the deployment even if they don’t recall doing so, and finally, when the country that was invaded cries foul, they are being “provocative.” It doesn’t get much more ridiculous than that.
Meanwhile, Davutoglu also suggested that Ankara may impose sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the raft of measures announced by The Kremlin late last month. "We are ready for talks and every kind of exchange of ideas with Russia but will never allow anything to be dictated to us. In the face of Russia's sanctions, we will implement our own sanctions if we regard it necessary,” the PM warned.
Again, this is a bizarre attempt to pretend as though Turkey is somehow the victim. It was Turkey that shot down a Russian plane, not the other way around. When Ankara suggests that The Kremlin is trying to “dictate” Turkish affairs with the imposition of retaliatory economic sanctions, Turkey is effectively pretending Putin just decided out of the clear blue to cut lucrative trade ties with no provocation whatsoever. A message to Davutoglu: when you shoot down someone's aircraft, you should expect a response. It's not an attempt to "dictate" anything. It's an attempt to let you know that you can't simply blow planes out of the sky with impunity.
Finally, just to make sure he covered all the bases, Davutoglu lashed out at Iran, saying that if certain “attitudes continue, the traditional Turkey-Iran friendship will suffer great harm.” “I know the Russian and Iranian people do not share this hostile stance of their leaders towards Turkey,” he added.
As Reuters notes, it’s not entirely clear what “attitudes” he’s referring to, but we’d guess the PM’s comments have something to do with the series of statements we highlighted on Monday evening incuding this, from Iranian diplomat and analyst Seyed Hadi Afghahi:
“It is important to point out a few key points. Firstly, it is important to understand whether it is sure that the purchase by Turkey of Daesh’s stolen oil was carried out with the full knowledge of President Erdogan, his son and son in law. The reaction of Erdogan and Turkish authorities can say one thing: they were stunned and shocked that Moscow has such evidence. This significantly affected the position of Turkey's NATO allies."
Speaking of Turkey's "NATO allies", one has to believe that the only reason Erdogan has been able to get away with the troop deployment in Iraq is because Turkey is a member of the alliance. If Russia had simply sent 300 marines to Mosul and rolled in 25 tanks against Baghdad's wishes, the Western powers would have lost their minds.
Unsurprisingly, the KRG is remaining "neutral". Here's Rudaw:
"Before, there were agreements between Turkey and Baghdad and local authorities of Mosul over training (Sunni) Arab volunteers to be well-prepared for an anticipated battle for Mosul," Kurdish President Masoud Barzani told Rudaw.
"The Kurdistan region is not part of the problem. I will discuss this topic in Turkey tomorrow and we will also talk to Baghdad," he added. "If Turkish troops came to fight ISIS, it would be good."
Of course it would also "be good" for the KRG if Turkish troops came to protect the illicit crude trade which is the lifeblood of Barzani's government and pays the Peshmerga's salaries.
As for what comes next, here's Peshmerga commander Hazhar Omer:
“Iraq will probably turn to the United Nations to file a complaint against Turkey than use military force to evict the Turkish force stationed in Bashik now."
Once again, given Turkey's status as NATO member, don't expect the Security Council to be much help, as Russian objections will largely fall on deaf ears - and we all know what happens when diplomatic channels fail...