The left-leaning blog, Moon Of Alabama, has published a number of insightful articles in recent days on a serious military escalation in the Middle East that has received scant attention in the Western news media: namely Turkey’s invasion of northern Iraq. As of the 9th of December there are some 1500 Turkish military personnel camped within striking distance of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, supported by tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery (not to mention fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft). This is a massive increase on the number of Turkish “observers” and “advisers” that had been working in the areas under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq since the late 1990s, albeit with the latter’s nominal approval. Of course, Mosul itself, bordering the KRG’s territories, has been held by the Islamic State (IS) since mid-2014 while that insurgent parastate fights to control the region’s valuable oil reserves, an objective which it now shares with the Turks.
Naturally Turkey has other interests in the fragmentary Republic of Iraq besides combating IS (which Ankara continuously shies away from) and one of these is the suppression of Hêzên Parastina Gel (HPG), the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its allies (notably the People’s Protection Units or PPU in Kurdish Syria). This nationalist movement, which is once again at war with the bellicose Turkish state following years of ceasefire, is largely unaffiliated with the Kurdistan Regional Government, a power-sharing authority between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), violent rivals of each other and the PKK until recent times. In addition, Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has made a great play over the last few months of being the defender of “ethnic Turks” in Syria and Iraq. Despite a relatively small “Turkmen” population in the Mosul area Erdoğan clearly sees their troubles with the Islamic State, various Kurdish militias, and the plethora of official and unofficial armed groups answering to the supposedly national government of Iraq in Baghdad, as a casus belli. I could throw in Turkish concerns about the growing political and military influence of Iran amongst frightened Shia Iraqis, the surprising refusal of the Assad regime in Syria to simply collapse in on itself, and a host of other matters, but I’m sure you get the picture.
All in all, northern Iraq and neighbouring parts of Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey are a big, chaotic, bloody mess, with an encyclopaedia’s worth of competing movements, communities and governments all seeking to out-do the other, to greater or lesser extents. With Turkey’s formal entrance into the Iraqi quagmire, and the suspicions of some that its long-term goal is to become a conduit between IS and its local or global opponents, and a quasi-guarantor of some sort of ceasefire or peace settlement, things are only going to get worse for the region’s traumatised inhabitants from now on.