ISIS threat puts Ankara on alert

After the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) took control of the city of Mosul, it has become clear that Ankara needs to develop new strategies, including alliances with the Kurds to ward off the threat.

al-monitor Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

turkey, nouri al-maliki, mosul, iraq

Jun 12, 2014

Turkey, not wanting a repeat of a crisis situation similar to the one at the Tomb of Suleiman Shah in Syria, is evacuating its consulate in Mosul. While all of Turkey is focused on events in Lice and the flag lowering episode in Diyarbakir, the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from Mosul — just across the border in Iraq and now under ISIS control — has put Ankara on alert. The organization that last year took over control of Syria’s Raqqa region and then four border crossings to Turkey, on Monday night [June 9] declared its full control of Mosul, a major Iraqi city.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated organization, which is aiming at a contiguous Salafist state from Syria to Iraq with the assistance of jihadists from abroad, is now in a position to threaten the regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as Turkey, Syria and the Kurdish entities in Iraq.

In addition to Kurdish PYD [Democratic Union Party] units of Syria, which have been in violent confrontation with ISIS for months, peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq are now deploying to face ISIS. The domination of Mosul by ISIS after a week of clashes with the Iraqi army has seriously disturbed not only Ankara and Erbil, but also Washington.

On Monday night, ISIS first captured the governor’s office, then the Mosul airport, and then freed 2,500 "terror detainees" from prison to boost its manpower in Iraq.

In the meantime, Ankara began evacuating its consulate in Mosul, which is very close to Mosul airport, now in ISIS's hands. Because of the clashes between the Iraqi army and ISIS, phone connections to the Mosul consulate were cut for a few days. Ankara, in touch with Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz via satellite phones, began evacuation to avoid a situation similar to that of the Tomb of Suleiman Shah, and to protect the security of its citizens.

Officials Milliyet spoke to in Ankara attribute the rise of ISIS to the authority vacuum in Syria because of the continuation of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and the Maliki government’s policies of marginalizing Iraqi Sunnis. The remark I heard most from officials yesterday was, "We had warned about Maliki."

But the pace of events requires Ankara to develop new strategies instead of just complaining. If nothing else, the rise of ISIS and al-Qaeda on our southern borders, which couldn’t be prevented once again, points to the need for Ankara to develop strong and lasting alliances with the Kurds. But Ankara, which is in close cooperation with the Kurdish administration in Erbil against ISIS, hasn’t yet developed the same [relationship] with the PYD of Syria. High-level officials say that a strategic rapprochement with the PYD — whether we like it or not — is linked to the solution process in Turkey. But the fragile atmosphere of the solution process at the moment doesn’t allow a deeper relationship.

No matter what, the ISIS threat and the possibility of a Salafist state stretching from Syria to Iraq compels Ankara to review its strategic priorities in Syria and Iraq.

And, at a most unexpected moment, Ankara finds itself in the same ranks against al-Qaeda with [Kurdistan Regional President Massoud] Barzani, the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party], the PYD and Maliki, whom it detests.

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