The Mosul Operation and Iran
The tension between Ankara and the Baghdad government has escalated over the Turkish forces at the Bashika base, right after the approval of a motion in TGNA that allowed the deployment of Turkish soldiers outside the country, and prior to the beginning of Mosul offensive that has been cooked up for a long time to liberate it from ISIS. Haidar al-Abadi, Iraqi Prime Minister, stated on October 5, “I fear the Turkish adventure could turn into a regional war.” That statement of Abadi is most viewed as a threat to Turkey. Additionally, some people claimed that the Abadi government turned against Turkey because of the pressures of the United States and Iran, which are thought to be influential over Baghdad.
Indeed, the Iranian officials have stood with the Iraqi government through continuousstatements. Recently, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani implicitly criticized Turkey in a speech he gave on October 24. He said, “We regard as very dangerous [acts of] intervention by foreign countries without any coordination with the host country and believe that [for any foreign measure,] the Syrian and Iraqi governments must request help and demand that another country act against terrorism inside their territories. This [regulation] is based on international principles and [any move] contrary to it will exacerbate insecurity.”
Aside from internal and external pressures on the Iraqi government, aforementioned statement of Abadi actually indicates how interests of regional powers are overlapped particularly with regard to Mosul. Most probably, interests of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Kurdish movements that are powerful in the region will clash after the liberation of Mosul.
Iranian Interests and Concerns in Iraq, and Turkey
Iran places a special importance on Iraq, with whom it shares a border longer than 1,400 kilometers, for historical, cultural and strategic reasons. Ali Younesi, advisor to President Rouhani and former minister of intelligence, once stated on this regard in March 2015: “At the moment Iraq is not only the bastion of our civilization, it is also our identity, culture and capital and this is true now as in the past.The geography and culture of Iran and Iraq cannot be divided.’ Likewise, in his interview with As-Safir daily, Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, and former minister of foreign affairs, said, “Iraq is more important than all of other Arab countries [including Syria].”
The greatest concern of Iran with regard to Iraq is the disintegration of that country or the domination of hostile or competing forces. The Tehran regime that has ‘strategic partnership’ with Baghdad pays attention to maintain territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq. That is why it has given over reaction to Turkey. Above else, according to Tehran, Turkish military presence in Iraq destroys sovereignty of Baghdad government. In fact, Iran prefers a weak government in Bagdad not to pose a threat to Tehran, but strong enough to keep its integrity. It is important for the preservations of Iranian achievement in Iraq in the last decade, as well.
Secondly, Iran is anxious with attempts of Turkey, a regional rivalry, arguably aimed at building its own spheres of influence inside Iraq. Since for a long time, Iran has been worried with claims of ‘Turkish nationalists’ with regard to Mosul and Kirkuk. Current Turkish military presence that has been deployed in a place very close to Mosul against the wishes of Baghdad, the close relations between Ankara and Masoud Barzani, President of KRG, and the questioning of borders in the region by some high-level Turkish officials have further amplified Iranian concerns.
Additionally, contrary to its remarkable influence in among the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, Iran could not reach into predominantly Sunni-Arab provinces like Mosul. For that reason, Iran views the Mosul operation as an opportunity to enlarge its influence into remaining parts of Iraq. The liberation of Mosul by the Iraqi forces, supported by Iran, would serve to this interest of Tehran. Hence, in addition to rebuilding the authority of Baghdad in that province, Iran, as the principal supporter of Iraq, would be regarded as one of the saviors of Mosul. Additionally, Iranian officials ask the inclusion of People’s Mobilization Forces (al-Hashd al-Sha’abi) into the Mosul operation. Thus, Iran could enlarge its influence in this region due to the Hashd al-Sha’abi that is supposed to be settled in here. Although it has been turned into an official security institution under the command of the Chief Commander of Armed Forces of Iraq, the Hashd al-Sha’abi is still an umbrella organization covering various militia forces. Some of them, including the Badr Force, Ashain ahle al-Haq, Ketaib-e Hezbollah, are known to have close relations with Iran. Likewise, Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi, leader of a militia group named Hezbollah al-Nujaba, visited Tehran for the first time in August 2016, where he met with high-level officials. While talking to Ayatollah Mohsen, he said, “we follow Vilayat-e Faqih with the leadership of Imam Khamenei.”
Another reason that sparked Iranian reactions to Turkey is growing strategic cooperation between Ankara government and Saudi Arabia. Recently, Iran countered the joint statement declared after the 5thJoint Ministerial Meeting on GCC-Turkey Strategic Dialogue held in Riyad, on October 13. The foreign ministers called Iran, in the joint statement, “not to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries in the region” and “to respond positively to the efforts of the United Arab Emirates to resolve the issue of the three islands Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa.” They also expressed “their concern about the plans to involve sectarian militia forces, which perpetrated revenge attacks, mass killings, torture and clear human rights abuses against local population of the liberated areas, in the imminent Mosul operation.” In response to growing Turkish-Saudi cooperation, Iranian officials and analysts blame Turkey to dance to Saudi’s tune in Iraq, as the cases of Syria and Yemen. Iran who blames Saudi Arabia to be supporter of takfiri terrorism, even ISIS,accuses Turkey of similar behaviors.
Iranian Accusations against Turkey
Iran, considering the Turkish military and political presence as a threat to its interests in the region,criticizes and charges Turkey mainly for three reasons. First, Iranian officials claim that Turkish activities and rhetoric with regard to the region, amplifies ethnic and sectarian differences. Accordingly, Turkish view of Iraqi society through sectarian lenses, i.e., the Shiites and the Sunnis, underestimating the unity of Iraqi nation, and its opposition to the inclusion of Hashd al-Sha’abi in the Mosul operation arguably for its being a Shiite organization is leading to destroy of Iraq. In fact, they often talk about the unity of Iraqi nation and the association of its people whether they are Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, or Arabs. Additionally, they underline that Hash al-Sha’abi is not exclusively consisted of Shiites, but every sector of Iraqi people including the Sunnis, Turkomans, Kurds, and Christians are part of that organizations. The second critique of Iranians towards Turkey revolves around claims on so-called Turkish support for ‘takfiri terrorists.’ Moreover, the Turkish insistence on take part in the Mosul operation, some argues, derives from its aim to back ‘terrorists.’ Finally, they claim that Turkey helps the American or Zionist plots to disintegrate Syria and Iraq. Bahram Ghasemi, Spokesman of Iranian Foreign Ministry, penned an opinion for Iran daily on October 19. “Unfortunately some of the regional countries do not want Iraq to maintain its integrity, do not approve current Iraqi government, and wish Iraq in a status close to its previous place in their history” he wrote.
The greatest advantage of Iran that has been trying to balance Turkey particularly in Iraq, and in the whole region, is its alliance with the Baghdad government. Thus, hundreds of Iranian soldiers are employed as ‘military advisor’ on the request and invitation of Baghdad government, and they could take part in military operations, and increase their sway over Hashd al-Sha’abi.Likewise, having been comfortable with its agreement with the Iraqi government, Iran fully supports the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. Hence, while constraining effects of its regional rivals, Tehran consolidates its own influence in Iraq on behalf of supporting the “unity and territorial integrity of Iraq and its struggle against terrorism.”