Let’s start in Mosul, where the possibility of an Iraq-Turkey war immediately following the conclusion of the Iraq-ISIS war got considerably bigger today, when it became clear that Turkey has been deploying what sure looks like an invasion force along its Iraqi border. Ankara insists that it’s just preparing for “eventualities,” like, I guess, the eventuality where it has to invade Iraq. Turkey, as you presumably know, has been rattling its sabers about possibly stepping in to defend the Sunni Turkmen of Tal Afar from any abuses at the hands of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (there is some chance of reprisal attacks, since many of those Sunni Turkmen did terrible things to Tal Afar’s Shiʿa Turkmen when ISIS moved in a couple of years ago). But in a broader sense the real issue here is that Sultan Recep I thinks that Mosul is still Turkish property going back to Ottoman days. Or, at least, he sees the value in puffing out his chest and pretending that Mosul is still Turkish property, because his voters, and the ultra-nationalists he keeps courting to try to expand his voter base, eat that shit up.
Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi said yesterday that “if a confrontation [with Turkey] happens we are ready for it.” This drew a measured and diplomatic response from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who essentially said “ooh, big talk from a guy who got pantsed by ISIS.” One of the huge questions looming over a potential Turkey-Iraq confrontation is which side the US would take–Turkey is obviously a NATO ally, but it would also pretty obviously be the aggressor against a country that is still to some degree a US protectorate. This rather massive problem hasn’t been lost on Washington, which appears to be furiously working behind the scenes to try to defuse the situation. It may need to deliberately block the PMU from going in to Tal Afar and/or do something to dislodge the PKK from its new base around Sinjar in order to back Turkey off.
Paul Pillar has written a typically insightful piece on what ISIS will become once its territorial possessions are lost–a terrorist network, yes, but more a convenient cause and high-profile name to attract people who are already inclined to commit violence of some kind or another. He also notes that a lot of the people who were calling for a new American invasion of Syria and Iraq to deal with ISIS don’t seem to be calling for that anymore:
We should reflect on the arguments we were hearing not very long ago that more force than the Obama administration was using would be needed to defeat the ISIS menace. ISIS was the main focus of the “do more in Syria” cries before the cries shifted more to the Syrian regime and its warfighting methods. Typical was an op ed by James Jeffrey of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, written not quite one year ago, that called for sending U.S. ground troops into the fight against ISIS and declared, “It’s obvious that defeat of the Islamic State is not going to happen absent a first-class, mobile ground force being launched to mate with overwhelming air power.” Well, ISIS is being defeated without such a U.S. ground force. In fact, the defeating is perhaps going too fast, in that the main question is not whether such defeat is happening but rather how unstable will be the situation left in the wake of an extinguished ISIS mini-state. The smash-and-run approach that was being advocated by many of those who argued that the Obama administration was not applying enough military force to the problem (Jeffrey advertised his proposal as a “short, crisp” operation that would not be anything like a prolonged counterinsurgency) would be even less likely to yield a favorable answer to that question.
This is one of those occasions in which it is easy to forget the errors of policy recommendations that were never adopted, because without being put into effect the errors in analysis fortunately never get reflected in actual costs and fiascos. But the analysis can be just as bad as with ill-founded policy recommendations that are put into effect. We ought to take note of that, and to apply the relevant lessons in evaluating similar policy debates now and in the future.
Syria and Yemen below.
Russia and the Syrian government have given rebels remaining in eastern Aleppo until Friday to leave the city, which presumably means they’ve got something terrible planned for Saturday. The rebels seem disinclined to take them up on their offer, and the US is criticizing the whole notion of the “humanitarian pause” we seem to be in, seeing as how no humanitarian aid has been allowed in to the city in this process.
Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen is reporting that Turkey and the rebel High Negotiations Committee are in agreement on a proposal (which also seems to have American support) to evacuate anyone in eastern Aleppo who needs medical care and to get all Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters out of the city. This would deprive Russia and Syria of a large part of their justification for bombing the city, and would at least expose their intentions if they were to resume bombing anyway. The two problems with that proposal: one, it would probably require a ceasefire longer than Russia and Syria are willing to grant, and two, there’s absolutely no reason to think that any of these outside actors, even the HNC (which is supposed to be a governing body of sorts for the rebellion) can leverage JFS out of the city.
There is apparently a draft resolution circulating at the UN Security Council that calls on the Yemeni rebels and the Yemeni-Saudi coalition to immediately cease hostilities and reopen negotiations. The resolution was co-written by the US, which suggests that Washington continues to wobble on its support for Riyadh’s Yemen intervention. The UN still seems to be operating on the same roadmap that Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi rejected a few days ago because it basically stripped him of most of his authority, and it’s not clear why he might change his mind, or whether the UN plans on altering the roadmap to get his buy-in.