Russian crisis wasn’t enough; now we’ve got Baghdad on our hands

Setting up a military base near Mosul with neither permission nor approval from the central government in Baghdad, Ankara has been given an ultimatum: “Withdraw your soldiers within 48 hours!” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has written Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a letter underscoring Ankara’s commitment to and recognition of Iraq’s land unity and its sovereignty. But clearly, the letter really hasn’t helped. Baghdad has reiterated the timeframe it has given Turkey to withdraw its troops and has made it clear that it is not going to soften on this front.

It is not hard to figure out that Iran is behind Iraq’s forceful stance. But what really deserves some focus for us here in Turkey is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s apparent inability to predict results from the steps taken in foreign policy.

After all, can anyone at this point defend the argument that Ankara knew what the outcome of the downing of the Russian plane might be?

In a similar way, the transfer of Turkish troops to the Bashika military camp near Mosul seems to be a move not adequately calculated by Ankara.

During a time when preparations to remove Mosul and its surrounding areas from the chokehold of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are well under way and increasing in intensity, it appears to many that Turkey’s move was made as an attempt to increase its own “visibility” in the region.

With the military and paramilitary forces in the immediate region generally composed of Shiite Muslims, it is obvious that the AKP is anxious to put itself on the stage in the role of a kind of friendly Sunni “protector.” All fine up to here, but the road comes to a dead-end when Ankara makes its move without the knowledge, permission or go-ahead from a foreign state whose sovereignty it theoretically and practically recognizes.

There was already a unit of Turkish soldiers in place in the region to help train Sunni paramilitary forces. It shouldn’t have called for much foresight to predict that attempts to develop this unit — in terms of numbers and weaponry — could pose potentially serious problems. Keep in mind here previous smaller crises, like the visit paid by Davutoglu to the Kirkuk region, which took place without Baghdad’s knowledge, or the petrol agreements struck between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

It is being claimed by some in Ankara that the request for Turkish reinforcements came from former Mosul Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi and that this is what prompted the placing of Turkish troops in Bashika. But the Iraqi government is now convinced that activities outside the category of “training” are going on in Bashika. Of course, another major reason for the angry reactions from the central Iraqi government is that there has been no attempt to coordinate these developments with it; this is why it has cut off monthly payments to its own paramilitary forces being trained at the Bashika camp. To wit, there is no agreement or contract with the Baghdad government as to any of this.

It should also be noted that the paramilitary forces organized and put together by Nujaifi have, to date, not participated in any military action against the local ISIL presence. Thus, it seems likely that the determination to maintain a military training camp — a camp whose plug has been pulled by the Baghdad government and whose presence is clearly opposed by the state — is kept alive with other intentions.

It is right that Turkey would desire a presence and an influence in the ridding of the Mosul area of ISIL forces. After all, this is the reason at the root of Ankara’s presence in international anti-ISIL coalitions in the region in general.

But what Ankara ought to avoid is acting according to its own ideas on this front.

The AKP leadership has become accustomed over the years to a very arbitrary sort of “I’ve done it, it’s over” type of governing. The area where this just does not work is in foreign policy.

The Turkish Parliament is where we should be questioning the dangerous murkiness of these policies. But, for whatever reason, our Parliament does not seem to be functioning that way these days.