I guess Tayyip Erdoğan was feeling especially salty today:
Hopes of defusing the escalating crisis between Turkey and Iraq ahead of a critical battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) were all but shattered after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “know his place.”
“Iraq had certain requests from us regarding Bashiqa, and now they are telling us to leave, but the Turkish army has not lost so much prestige as to take its orders from you,” he roared. Erdogan was referring to the Bashiqa camp, north of Mosul, where Turkish troops are training several thousand Sunni militia fighters loyal to Atheel al-Nujaifi, former governor of Ninevah province.
This dust-up between Turkey and Iraq is something we’ve covered here before. Iraqi Kurds, who, in contrast to Turkish Kurds, have a great relationship with Ankara, invited some Turkish forces in to northern Iraq a couple of years ago to serve as trainers and advisers to Kurdish and Arab Sunni forces training to resist ISIS and eventually participate in a campaign to take back Mosul. Baghdad was OK with this at the time. But the Turkish presence has since ballooned to a few hundred soldiers plus some heavy armor, and Baghdad has been decidedly less OK with that level of Turkish deployment. Baghdad has complained, and Turkey has, until now, been trying to pacify Abadi verbally while not actually taking any steps to address his concerns. Apparently we’re past even trying to pacify him verbally, though, because…damn:
Turkish media outlets reported Erdogan’s criticism of Abadi, made during a meeting of Islamic leaders in Istanbul Oct. 11. “You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, your quality is not at my level,” Erdogan said in the remarks aimed at Abadi. The president went on to say that the Iraqi premier’s “clamoring from Iraq” is not important, warning him to “know your limits.”
This is less like the kind of talk you’d expect to hear between two national leaders and more like the kind of talk you’d expect to hear between an Ottoman emperor and an unruly provincial governor.
In the massive cloud of paranoia that constantly hangs over the AKP these days, this dispute with Baghdad has nothing to do with Turkish troops or Iraqi soil or any of that. No, it must be an American-Iranian plot to deprive Turkey of its rightful historical claim on Mosul, or on northern Iraqi oil, or something. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Abadi is just a bag man for Washington and Tehran, not a genuine independent leader of men like Tayyip Erdoğan. Whatever.
Retaking Mosul is already going to be a massive operation fraught with potential complications and beset by competing concerns. Should Iraq’s Shiʿa militias participate in an attack on a city full of mostly Sunnis? Should Kurdish and/or Sunni Arab irregulars participating in the attack place themselves under Baghdad’s authority? How many American boots will be on the ground despite Washington’s repeated insistence that we’re not doing that sort of thing? What level of civilian casualties is everyone prepared to accept, because there will be civilian casualties? Can Mosul be taken without flattening the hell out of it, a la Fallujah and Ramadi? Adding a completely unnecessary fight between Baghdad and Ankara to the mix just complicates things further, to the benefit of nobody but the ISIS fighters still in Mosul. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Turkey’s aims have more to do with pushing Ankara’s weight around the region than with actually dislodging ISIS from one of its last remaining urban centers. But surely Turkey’s commitment to the anti-ISIS cause can’t be questioned. Right?