Iraqi Turkmens demand armed force of their own ahead of Mosul offensive against ISIL
A group of Turkmen soldiers are seen having conversation in inTurkmen town Amirli, north of Baghdad, in this file photo.(Photo: Sunday's Zaman
As a coalition of countries prepares to launch an offensive to retake Mosul from the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), turkmens in Iraq have demanded that they also be allowed to establish an armed force of their own, fearing they will have no voice in a country already divided on ethnic and sectarian lines.
“Turkmens also want to take part in the Mosul operation, in the liberation of Tal Afar," Aydın Maruf Selim, an executive board member of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), told Sunday's Zaman.
Turkmens have been heavily victimized by the ISIL advance in Iraq, as they are the only ethnic group with a substantial population that has no armed security unit of its own.
Hundreds of thousands of Turkmens, who are estimated to have a population of more than 2 million in Iraq, were forced to flee their towns because of the ISIL advance that started in June of last year.
According to Selim, preparations are under way for armed units composed of Turkmens to be established within the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army.
But it is doubtful that the project will bear any significant fruit, not only because the Kurds have previously opposed the formation of Turkmen military units, but also because of the fact that the operation against ISIL is imminent.
The Iraqi army and the Kurdish government's peshmerga forces, backed by coalition forces made up of countries including the US, France and Turkey, are expected, in a month or so, to launch an assault to drive the terrorist ISIL group out of Iraq.
Following the ISIL advance in Iraq, the country has been de facto divided into three parts based on ethnic and sectarian lines, across which the Turkmen population is dispersed.
The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which used to control the northeastern part of the country, has also taken control of Kirkuk after ISIL's capture of Mosul and Tal Afar.
Sunni Arabs will most probably control the areas that are currently controlled by ISIL after the terrorist organization is driven out of the country by the coalition, while the capital and southern part of the country will be under the control of Shiite Arabs.
The current Iraqi government is also largely controlled by Shiites, which make up more than 60 percent of the population of the country.
Turkmens expect Turkey to bring up the issue with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities, as they are concerned they may well be left out in the cold following the military operation against ISIL.
“The terrorist organization ISIL has brought a project to Iraq. ISIL has traced the contours of the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas. But it has wreaked havoc on Turkmen areas,” ITC leader Arshad al-Salihi told the Turkish press at the beginning of the year.
Before the ISIL advance in Iraq, a stretch of land between areas where Sunni Arabs lived and areas populated by Kurds had a relatively dense population of Turkmens. But today, as Turkmens and other groups were forced to flee by the advancing ISIL group, most of the Turkmen areas are either controlled by ISIL -- which is also supported by some of the Sunni tribes in Iraq -- or by Kurdish forces.
Around 70 percent of the population of Tal Afar, a city in western Iraq near the Syrian border, was Turkmen before ISIL captured the city in June. Half of that 70 percent were Shiite Turkmens, most of whom have fled to the south of the country.
“Unfortunately, those who have guns and money are influential in Iraq. Turkmens have neither at the moment,” Salihi added, drawing attention to the situation of Turkmens.
According to Mahir Nakip, spokesperson for the İstanbul-based Kirkuk Foundation, Turkmens must have a military force of their own, as each ethnic group is fighting to protect its own land in the country.
Nakip, an Ankara-based Turkmen from Kirkuk, is concerned that when ISIL is driven out of Mosul, Turkmens may not feel as comfortable in the area as they did before ISIL occupation, as it would be Sunni Arabs -- and to an extent Kurds -- who will have the control of the area after the coalition's operation.
Tens of thousands of Turkmens used live in towns and villages around the city of Mosul before the ISIL occupation.
“Ninety-five percent of the Turkmens who used live in the province of Mosul have left the area,” Riyaz Sarıkahya, a Kirkuk-based leader of the Turkmeneli Party, told Sunday's Zaman.
“Tal Afar and Turkmen villages around Mosul should not be left to the control of other groups [following the military operation],” added Sarıkahya, who sees ISIL as an instrument used to get rid of Turkmens in Iraq.
A US Central Command official said at the end of February that an Iraqi and Kurdish military force of 20,000 to 25,000 troops is being prepared to recapture Mosul, probably in April or May.
Turkmens, frustrated by Turkey's failure so far to lend them an efficient helping hand, want Turkey to offer stronger support for the rights of Iraqi Turkmen as the chaos reigns.
Referring to the presence of Iranian officers fighting alongside Iraqi troops against ISIL, Nakip, who also teaches at Çankaya University, said: “Turkey should also throw its weight around more.”
“If Turkmens are not armed, Turkmens, particularly in Kirkuk, feel concerned that they may politically have no weight,” Nakip told Sunday's Zaman.
Turkmens pushed in the past for the formation of a Turkmen region in Iraq and a safe zone for Turkmens following the ISIL advance, but with no success.
Noting that Turkmens are against any project that ignores Turkmens in Iraq, Sarıkahya expressed Turkmens' disappointment with Turkey, saying, “Turkey did not offer support to Turkmens for them to get organized, for a Turkmen armed unit to be established.”
When Tal Afar faced ISIL occupation after Mosul fell into the group's hands, Turkey did not lift a finger to offer Turkmens protection from the terrorist organization. Turkey only provided humanitarian aid to Turkmens, who had to flee to the surrounding mountainous or desert areas out of fear for their lives.
Turkey has said it will only offer logistics and intelligence support to the coalition forces in the campaign against ISIL.
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top US general overseeing the US-led military coalition in Iraq, paid a visit in last week to Turkey's Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel to discuss the anticipated operation to retake Mosul.