Turkey Could be Key to Iraq’s Tal Afar Operation

Ali SEMİN
22 August 2017
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ANKARA: Following Sunday’s launch of a ground operation by Iraqi forces to retake Tal Afar from Daesh, Ankara’s stance on the offensive will be decisive as the northwestern city is predominantly populated by Turkmen, who have close ethnic and historical ties to Turkey.

Ankara has not yet released a statement on the operation. Situated west of Mosul, which was liberated from Daesh last month, it is estimated that 2,000 Daesh fighters are protecting Tal Afar, including foreign fighters.

US-led coalition airplanes have increased airstrikes against Daesh targets in the city, which has been held by the group since mid-2014.

Ankara has previously voiced opposition to participation by Iraq’s Hashd Al-Shaabi, an umbrella group dominated by Shiite forces that Turkey considers a “terrorist” entity.

Ankara has underlined the need to consider ethnic and sectarian balances in the region.

Turkey has begun building a wall on its southeastern border to halt a possible influx of militants.

As part of its integrated border-management policy, the country also plans to build a security wall on its border with Iraq.

“Beyond being a predominantly Turkmen city, Tal Afar is situated in a very strategic region, 61 km from the Turkish border and 60 km from Syria,” Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think tank BILGESAM, told Arab News.

“In the past, Turkey even considered opening a second border gate with Iraq at Tal Afar.”

Semin said Turkey should engage in diplomatic efforts to prevent any sectarian conflict in the city between Turkmen and Iranian Shiites.

Ankara “should be in constant dialogue with Turkmen and the Iraqi Turkmen Front to find common ground with Shiite forces in the region,” he said.

“Turkey should also provide logistical support in the liberation of Tal Afar, in close coordination with Iraq’s central government.”

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Baqeri, Iran’s military chief, recently visited Turkey to discuss regional conflicts with top civilian and military figures in Ankara.

Semin said terrorists’ infiltration into Turkey from Tal Afar is a real concern for Ankara, so it should cooperate with the international community — especially with those conducting a proxy war in the region — regarding intelligence-sharing.

But Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Arab News that Daesh terrorists caught in Tal Afar are unlikely to flee to Turkey. They will either be killed in Tal Afar or flee to Deir Ezzor province in Syria, he said.

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