How much of Iraq does the Iraqi government actually control at this point?

Seriously, I don’t know anymore. I’m not talking about the parts of Iraq that are controlled by ISIS–obviously Baghdad has no real control over them at this point, but presumably (hopefully) that’s temporary. But of the rest of the country, the parts that aren’t controlled by ISIS, and in terms of the normal everyday things a government does, like conducting foreign policy, is Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government really in control of much of anything?

Take, for example, the fact that Congress (both parties, so this can’t be dismissed as one party’s nuttiness) and Defense Secretary Ash Carter have been openly talking about cutting military aid to Baghdad and delivering it directly to Sunni Arab tribes, unless Abadi makes some progress in tamping down sectarianism and in fully incorporating Sunnis (the ones who aren’t currently living under ISIS, anyway) into the nation. This is only a threat at this point, and the hope obviously is that Baghdad gets its act together, but I don’t think it’s a bluff.

The ground campaign against ISIS in Iraq just had a major success in and around Sinjar a few weeks ago, but that was a “Kurdish” success more than an “Iraqi” one. The longer Baghdad goes without making a serious move on Ramadi, and the more stories come out about Sunnis in recently liberated areas who have been so badly mistreated by Shiʿa (and Kurds) that they may well (and often do) wish they’d stayed under ISIS’s control, the more the pressure is going to build for there to be some kind of change in how the US distributes the aid it sends to Iraq. And it’s not clear that Abadi can do anything about it, either by talking the US down or by reining in the excesses of those in the government and Iraq’s Shiʿa militias who are doing so much to disenfranchise and alienate those Sunnis.

Speaking of the Kurds, let’s also consider the deal that Masoud Barzani, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, just signed with Ankara for a permanent Turkish military base in the Kurdish-held part of Nineveh Province (near Mosul). The Turkish troops stationed there will be tasked with training Peshmerga fighters in heavy weapons and artillery to fight ISIS, though they’ve also apparently got some extra troops and a couple dozen tanks there, for “defense” I guess. Sounds swell, except for the fact that Baghdad had nothing to do with negotiating this deal to base foreign soldiers on Iraqi soil.

The dynamics are obviously different, but imagine if Rick Perry had cut a deal with Moscow in 2010 to base a couple hundred Russian troops and a few Russian tanks in El Paso to train the Texas National Guard on how to guard the border. That…probably wouldn’t have gone over too well in DC, right? So you can imagine how Baghdad reacted to this news:

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador on Saturday to demand that Turkey immediately withdraw hundreds of troops deployed in recent days to northern Iraq, near the city of Mosul, which is controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The ministry said in a statement the Turkish forces had entered Iraqi territory without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad, and that Iraq considered such presence “a hostile act.”

But Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the troop rotation was routine and that Turkish forces had set up a camp near Mosul almost a year ago in coordination with Iraqi authorities.

Davutoğlu isn’t lying there, but he is trying to argue that Baghdad’s permission for Turkey to send a few dozen trainer-adviser forces to aid the Kurds a year ago ipso facto means that Baghdad must also be OK with Turkey sending a substantially larger force accompanied by armored vehicles into Iraq right now. I really don’t think the latter necessarily follows from the former. Turkey and Iraq are very much in the “frenemy” category when it comes to ISIS–both are opposed to it (at least theoretically, in Turkey’s case), but both are also opposed to each other when it comes to the eventual fate of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, an issue that is now inextricably bound up with the anti-ISIS fight. Abadi’s government isn’t strenuously pro-Assad, but Iran and a number of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiʿa militias are, so Baghdad is a lot closer to the pro-Assad camp than to the anti-Assad camp.

Davutoğlu and Abadi, in happier times (via Daily Sabah)

Davutoğlu tried to mollify Abadi today, sending him a letter assuring him that Turkey would never dream of violating Iraqi sovereignty in any way and that the deployment would be frozen at the initial deployment (about 150 troops actually more like 600 troops or more) until the concerns of the Iraqi government were met. Which is nice, but it’s not quite the “sorry, we’ll pull our troops out of your country now” response that Abadi was apparently looking for. Ergo, Abadi has reportedly given Turkey “24 hours” to remove its forces from Iraqi soil. He didn’t say what would happen if Turkey doesn’t pull its forces out, but he was speaking at an air force base, and he said that “the air force has the capability…to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces,” so you do the math.

Needless to say that an airstrike by US ally Iraq on troops from US NATO partner Turkey who are on Iraqi soil possibly in violation of international law would be perhaps the most epic clusterfuck among a very long list of clusterfucks that have accompanied the global anti-ISIS effort and its increasingly ridiculous balancing act between pro- and anti-Assad elements. It’s very unlikely that Washington would allow it to come to pass, precisely for that reason. But the fact that Baghdad has to resort to threats of military action to get troops from a nominally allied country off of their territory, after those troops were invited in by a guy whose scope of authority really shouldn’t be much greater than your average state governor, tells you something about just how little the Abadi government is really in control of its own country.

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Author: DWD

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