Turkey Pulse

What's behind Turkey's rush to reopen Iraqi consulates?

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Article Summary
Turkey's consulate in Mosul has been closed since the building was seized by Islamic State militants in June 2014, but now Ankara is looking to make a comeback in its southeastern neighbor.

Preparations are underway to reopen the Turkish consulates in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Basra, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said July 6.

Sources told Al-Monitor that Ankara is frantically searching for a building to buy in Mosul, one that is bigger and better protected than the old consulate on Dur Al-Dhubat Street.

Ankara’s memories of Mosul — where its consulate was seized by the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014 — are not pleasant. IS militants seized the buildings and took 45 consulate staffers, including the consul general, hostage.

The consul general and his staff were released in September 2014 after prolonged bargaining.

The consulate building that was used as IS headquarters for more than two years was targeted by the anti-IS coalition on April 4, 2016, and with the blessing of Ankara, it was mostly destroyed. The semi-destroyed building was recovered in March 2017 after Iraqi forces reinstated their control over western Mosul.

Given that Mosul is not yet fully secure, why is Ankara in such a rush to reopen its consulate? Tarik Celenk, who is known for his research on Mosul and who is now producing a documentary about the city, said Turkey is not done with Mosul and pays much attention to it. “Mosul, which in 1920 was declared by the last Ottoman parliament as being within the borders of the [republic as laid out in the] National Pact, was occupied by Great Britain in violation of the Armistice of Mudros it had signed. With a report of a League of Nations commission, the region was in 1926 attached conditionally to Iraq that was under British mandate,” Celenk said. “Turkey never conceded its claims over Mosul. Britain, which played an active role in this arrangement contrary to what everyone thinks, was interested in maintaining a Shiite-Sunni balance in the new state of Iraq more than it was interested in oil.”

He said, “In the post-IS era, Turkey wants to prevent the spread of radical Sunnism in the region and to preserve its historic, social and legal ties with the region by reopening its abandoned consulate. Mosul, being the main Sunni base and because of its geopolitical location, is still very important. Turkey’s decision to reopen the consulate at the Sunni power center of Mosul and also at the Shiite power base of Basra indicates the role that sects continue to play in Turkey’s regional policies.”

There are also other reasons behind Turkey’s desire to reopen its Mosul consulate. Ankara and Baghdad’s relations have improved since both opposed the Kurdish independence referendum in September 2017. That was when the issue of opening a new border crossing in Ovakoy, Turkey, was raised; the one at Habur a little to the east has been under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. A new crossing between Ovakoy and Iraq’s Fish Khabur will not only facilitate trade between the two countries, but will be paving the way to a new economic basin from Mosul southward. In other words, economic calculations are in play as much as geopolitical considerations in Ankara’s Mosul moves.

The joint Turkish-Iraqi army border security exercises after the Kurdish referendum and Baghdad's increasing role in controlling the Habur border crossing are major signs of security cooperation between Ankara and Baghdad. Also, Baghdad did not react to Ankara’s escalating operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party in the Qandil Mountains, which can also be seen as an outcome of this new cooperation atmosphere. The reopening of the Mosul consulate signals Ankara’s determination to intensify this cooperation.

Ankara also expressed its desire to support sustainable stability and development in Iraq at a donors’ conference held in Kuwait in February. There Turkey pledged $5 billion in assistance to Iraq.

Most of these funds will be used for post-conflict reconstruction of Mosul, from which Turkey wants to benefit. Ankara is now following Iraqi parties’ efforts to form a new government and is strengthening its contacts with all Iraqi actors while reminding them that sects excluded from the process can become radicalized. Considering that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign leader to call Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to congratulate him on his success in the recent parliamentary elections, one should get a fairly good idea of how much attention Ankara is paying to Mosul and Basra after its four-year hiatus.

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Found in: basra, turkish-iraqi relations, recep tayyip erdogan, consulate, mosul

Metin Gurcan is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He served in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq as a Turkish military adviser from 2002 to 2008. After resigning from the military, he became an Istanbul-based independent security analyst. Gurcan obtained his PhD in 2016 with a dissertation on changes in the Turkish military over the preceding decade. He has published extensively in Turkish and foreign academic journals, and his book “What Went Wrong in Afghanistan: Understanding Counterinsurgency in Tribalized, Rural, Muslim Environments” was published in August 2016. On Twitter: @Metin4020

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