Hashd al-Shaabi's Border Operation and Regional Equation
While the process of struggle against ISIS in Iraq has focused on the operation carried out in the west side of the city center of Mosul, it has gained a new dimension with the operation of Hashd al-Shaabi in the Iraq-Syria border of the Mosul province. For the first time since June 2014, when ISIS provided control in Iraq, a region on the Iraq-Syria border has been reached and established control. While it is expected that the Iraqi security forces would completely purge Mosul city center of the ISIS in terms of operational struggle against the ISIS, Hashd al-Shaabi's reaching the border of Syria as a consequence of his operations is seen as a surprise. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Hashd al-Shaabi has carried out the operations within his plans although he has been under the control of the central government with the legislation enacted by the Iraqi Parliament. On the other hand, it has come to an end in the operation carried out by the security forces of Federal government of Iraq such as Iraqi army, Iraqi federal police and Iraqi military force against terrorism and ISIS has stuck in a very narrow area known as Old Mosul City. Hence, almost 95 percentage of the Mosul city center has been under the control of Iraqi central government. Yet, since the province Old Mosul City is a very narrow area on urban planning and population density, it has slowed down the operations. However, Hashd al-Shaabi's taking control in a part of the Syria border has kept the pace of struggle against ISIS.
While Hashd al-Shaabi's reaching the Tal Afar Airport with a great success in a short period of time after he launched an operation to Tal Afar where is one of the important centers of ISIS in November 2016 has been one of the most critical phase of struggle against ISIS, it has taken attention that there hasn't carried out any operations to the center of Tal Afar. Operation of Tal Afar under the leadership of Hashd al-Shaabi has changed direction and the operations have been carried out on purging the periphery of Tal Afar of ISIS and retaking the other towns in the Syria border of Mosul. As a matter of fact, retaken of the ancient city Hatra, which is in the cultural heritage list of UNESCO, from ISIS by the end of April 2017 has been an important success. Besides its historical significance, Hatra is one of the important cross-roads located in the north of Iraq on the axis of north-south and east-west. While access road of Mosul-Baghdad has been taken under the control with the retaken of Hatra, it has paved the way of Baghdad- Tal Afar and the road in the west leads to the border of Sinjar-Syria. Hashd al-Shaabi operation that proceeds west-oriented again after retaken of Hatra, it has headed to Yezidi villages located in the south of Sinjar after Kairouan. YBŞ (Sinjar Resistance Units) which has been founded by PKK in Sinjar has also supported the operation against Yezidi villages. As a result of the joint operations carried out by Hashd al-Shaabi and YBŞ; Yezidi villages such as Tel Ezeir, Tel Banat, Tel Kasab and Kocho, Şiba Şeyh Hıdır has been liberated from ISIS and so Iraq-Syria border has been reached. According to the statements done by Iraqi security forces, it has been intended to purge ISIS all throughout the Iraq-Syria border and finally to reach Al-Qa'im of Al-Anbar in following phase. On the other hand, immediately after reaching the Iraq-Syria border, the appearance of the Iranian commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in the rescued areas brought together many controversies. The claims upon Iran's opening a corridor to Syria through Iraq via Hashd al-Shaabi and Shia militia groups for a long time have been strengthened because Hashd al-Shaabi authorities have stated that they are ready to help Syrian regime. In the current situation, it is possible to mention about an area starting by Diyala which is a province in the Iraq-Syria border, continuing from north of Baghdad approaching to Al-Shirqat town of Tikrit then until the border situated in the south of Mosul controlled by Hashd al-Shaabi. No matter how the Federal government of Iraq determine a legal status to Hashd al-Shaabi and make them responsible for the government, it wouldn't be wrong to say that Hashd al-Shaabi move in terms of their own plans of action. The active role of Iran-backed groups within Hashd al-Shaabi reveals some thoughts regarding that Hashd al-Shaabi and some Shia militia groups are being used as a tool by Iran. Thus, Qasem Soleimani's appearance on every critical operations of Hashd al-Shaabi leads to become concrete of these thoughts.
At this point, Syria-related developments also need to be examined carefully. While the Raqqa operation carried out in Syria against ISIS is focal point in the current situation, it is possible to say that the actual regional, even global, struggle will occur in Deir ez-Zor. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Russia-Iran-Regime (Syria) alliance has been dominating over Deir ez-Zor so as not to lose there to the US after the US has taken over the operational superiority and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) which was assembled under the guidance of PYD, the ramification of the US supported terrorist organization PKK in Syria, in Raqqa. At this point, Hashd al-Shaabi's control in Syria border in the following phase will be important for Deir ez-Zor operation. It shouldn't be forgotten that in the last months of 2015, joint operation centers have been formed in Baghdad and Damascus among Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
Within this circle, terrorist organization PKK is also trying to find a space for itself and to preserve maintaining their existence on regional balances. PKK ,which is about to lose their existence as a result of the operations carried out by Turkey, is trying to maintain its legitimacy and to extend its mobility by spreading horizontally and vertically. In this way, terrorist organization PKK constitutes various of alliance in different geographies with different names. For instance; they constitute an alliance with the US under cover of struggling against ISIS on PYD/YPG organization especially in the west of Euphrates River in Syria while they cooperate with Russia and Regime in Afrin. On the other hand, it is seen that PKK is in contact with Iran by assembling YBŞ (Sinjar Resistance Units), which Yezidis are involved as well, in Iraq especially in Sinjar. Along with the knowledge of the fund of YBŞ (Sinjar Resistance Units) over Hashd al-Shaabi's account, Hashd al-Shaabi's carrying out the last operation in the south of Sinjar with the cooperation of YBŞ and the participation of the Iranian commanders on the operations which have been carried out in Mosul (It is known that an Iranian commander named Shaban Nasiri is killed during the operations carried out on 27 May 2017) despite all the warnings of Turkey is a prove to the Iran-Hashd al-Shaabi-SRU connection. Besides, it has been striking that PJAK, (Kurdistan Free Life Party) which is an Iranian ramification of PKK, has attacked to Iranian soldiers about after 1,5 years. Although Iranian side consider Turkey responsible for the attack, the main subject in here is that it has been occurred because of the tension between Iran and the US and it is possible to say that the US has tried to leave Iran in a difficult situation by using its PJAK card. Along with it, it can be seen that US has tried to decrease Iran's active tools in regional equation. As a matter of fact, it is known that the US has put the pressure on YBŞ which is under the effect capacity of Iran and on the Yezidis in YBŞ for leaving YBŞ and joining to the peshmergas of Iraqi Kurdistan for the protection of Sinjar and thus, Haydar Shesho, one of the YBŞ commander, has joined to Peshmergas Ministry with his 1000 men. Starting from this, it can be said that the US will make some moves on both PKK and PKK connected organizations, and through local, regional and global actors along with the tensions on the US-Iran bilateral relations. At this point, it can be predicted that PKK will make a decision on the US and Russia- Iran in the following phase. It is more likely for PKK to choose the US regarding the dimension of regional and international legitimacy, and living space that the US can offer them. Especially the area that opened for PYD in Syria field is extremely critical for PKK to their long term aims (founding a state). That's why, it is possible to say that PKK wouldn't want to lose this advantage.
Within this equation, Turkey tries to conduct a balanced policy by taking in consideration national security risks. Within this balance policy, the strategical relations contacted with both Russia and the US is continuing. Turkey tries to reduce the security risks by using their own tools and maintaining its active role position in the area. Yet, the moves of the US on paving the way of PKK in Syria can lead to ruptures on the relations between Turkey and the US.