The involvement of Turkish special operations, armored and artillery forces in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga battle to drive ISIS out of Bashiqa, 12 south of Mosul, marks a pivotal moment in the US-led coalition’s anti-ISIS offensive to free Iraq’s second city. The entire Mosul operation hangs in the balance since Turkey stepped into the fighting in Iraq, at the initiative of the US. Instead of fighting ISIS, the coalition’s partners are squaring off to fight each other.
debkafile’s military sources report that Turkey was allowed to gatecrash the fighting around Mosul after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the KRG capital of Irbil Sunday, Oct. 23. He urged Kurdish leaders to bow to President Tayyip Erdogan’s demands for a role in the battle.
The Kurdish leaders succumbed to the pressure with the proviso that Turkey cease its air and artillery assaults on Syrian Kurdish militias in northern Syria.
When Ankara accepted this condition, Ashton set out for the Bashiqa arena, becoming the first US defense secretary to come that close to a battlefront against ISIS in Iraq.
He visited the Turkish military encampment outside Bashiqa and was given a briefing by their commanders. As soon as he departed, Turkish units entered the fray in support of the Peshmerga fighters
According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, this involvement was limited to tank and artillery support for the Kurdish forces. Our military sources report, however, that it went much further and included Turkish special operations forces and tanks. By Monday, Oct. 24, Turkish troops were still backing up the Kurdish effort to purge Bashiqa of ISIS fighters.
Tehran’s reaction to this change on the game board was extreme. Our sources report that the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias assigned to subordinate tasks in the Mosul operation were immediately put on a state of readiness. Commanders of the Bader Brigades, the Population Mobilization Force and the Hashd eal-Shaabi reported that they were standing ready to attack the Turkish forces operating at Bashiqa, whom they termed “gangs of terrorists no less dangerous than ISIS.”
The Iranian government leaned hard on Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi to make him redirect Iraqi government forces from the Mosul arena to join the Shiite forces preparing to strike the Turkish troops at Bashiqa.
Al-Abadi had in the past week demanded the removal of Turkish troops from Iraqi soil, a demand Ankara just as steadily rebuffed.
Building up at present is an imminent head-to-head fight between Turkish and Kurdish forces on the one hand and Iraqi Shiites on the other.
In an effort to prevent the long-awaited Mosul operation degenerating into an all-out conflagration among US allies, with the Islamist State no doubt cheering on, the Obama administration Monday turned to Tehran, Baghdad, Ankara and Irbil and asked them back off lest they wreck their primary mission of evicting ISIS from Mosul.
Tehran may decide to give ground on this but the price it exacts will be steep: an overhaul of the Iraqi Shiite militias’ rear position and permission for their direct intervention in the battle for Mosul, including their entry into the city. This permission the US commanders have hitherto withheld.
This would be a big prize. Mosul has been coveted by Iranian strategists as a major transit point on the land bridge they have designed to link the Islamic Republic to Syria and the Mediterranean. This prize would go by the board if the Turks and Kurds were first in the liberated city first and assumed control.