Will Iran and Turkey Leave Iraq after Mosul?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

The slow and painful liberation of Mosul continues to be received by regional media with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The Islamic State appears to have dug in for a long and brutal fight, and reports indicate that it is punishing the newly liberated areas of the city by cutting off water supplies. The biggest topic of discussion, however, remains the role that Iraqi Shia militias will play in a liberated Mosul. Implicit in such concerns are questions about the increasing role of Iran, which, according to many observers, is the real winner of the battle. Turkey, meanwhile, continues to raise eyebrows by insisting that it has a role to play in Iraq, regardless of the wishes of Baghdad.

According to the Iranian state-runPress TV, Islamic State fighters have cut the water supply to the liberated areas of Mosul: “Nineveh provincial council member Hossam al-Abbar told Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network on Monday that Daesh terrorists have cut water to 30 neighborhoods in the eastern flank of the city, located some 400 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad….He further noted that water stations in al-Ghabat neighborhood, which nurture western Mosul, are still under Daesh control, and that the terror group has turned off the pumps which send water toward liberated neighborhoods in the city….An unnamed security source also said federal police forces are closing in on Mosul University’s building, noting that the site is considered as one of the main positions of Daesh in the eastern side of the city.”

As the eventual removal of the so-called Islamic State in Mosul appears inevitable, regional observers like the Saudi Gazette’s Khaled Batarfi remain suspicious about the ability of the Iraqi government to rein in the Iraqi Shia militias: “It is not enough for the prime minister and supreme leader of the Iraqi armed forces to plead with the militia not to venture outside Iraq’s borders, like he did recently. They are either under his command obeying his orders, or under Iranian control, as Al-Jubeir maintained, and should be dissolved….In case the Iraqi government is not capable of dissolving or ruling Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, it should say so. This way, the rest of us could deal with them as we did with Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. Terrorists should not receive government cover and support. They cannot wear soldiers’ uniforms, carry state-issued arms and receive salaries. That is exactly why the world regards Iran as a rogue regime and terrorism-sponsoring state. We cannot accept for another Arab nation to go that way. Aren’t Syria and Yemen enough?”

Similarly, Asharq Alawsat’s Salman Al-dossary sees Iran as the “biggest winner,” both in terms of its ability to influence Iraqi politics, as well as in the region: “The capacities of Iraqi forces to retake the city and defeat the extremist group ISIS are undoubted. It is only a matter of time. However, what remains a considerable distress is that Iran would turn out to be the greatest beneficiary of the Mosul operation…. Iran…will exploit vacancy, caused by Washington’s repeated mistake, to its own gains. The more Washington rolls back its ties with Baghdad, the stronger Iran-Iraq relations [will] be, moving Iran a step closer to its expansionist ambitions. Iran-aligned militias, currently a factor in the Mosul operation, would later overrun and strive [sic] in liberated areas, should international forces stick to a mere militarized contribution…. Iran seeks a Mosul victory which can add to the sectarian schism of the Muslim world, pitting Shiites against Sunnis, bringing about a political process in which Shiites exclude their Sunni counterparts. The same approach will give Iran a greater strategic influence over the region.”

Writing for Arab News, Linda Heard blames the Obama administration for the gains of Iran inside Iraq: “Obama’s unwillingness to enter the fray left a void for Tehran to exploit, in the same way that his hands-off approach to the Syrian crisis was an invitation to Russia to step in. Daesh has shamefully been permitted two and a half years to consolidate its defenses with legions of suicide bombers, booby-trapped buildings, underground tunnels, improvised explosive devices, snipers and bomb-attached drones. Nevertheless, given the firepower ranged against it, it is only a matter of time before Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi can confidently declare victory….Sunnis, who make up almost 40 percent of Iraq’s population, will not accept to be treated in perpetuity as third-class citizens within a virtual Iranian domain, peppered with posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini….In a worst-case scenario, tranches will be subsumed by its neighbor as a new Iranian province.”

For the Kurdish observer Gazi Hassan, writing for the Kurdish Globe, fears of Iran’s undue influence in Iraqi politics are not just about who gets to rule Iraq, but about whether Iraq has a viable path forward as a stable state: “Last week, during a visit he paid to Iran, Nuri Al-Maliki met with Iranian officials and made a statement in which he threatened Peshmerga and the Kurdistan Region. Couldn’t Baghdad just ask in what prospective and authority Al-Maliki is issuing those statements? In practice, Al-Maliki is acting like Prime Minister of Iraq while Al-Abbadi is a partisan actor and a powerless listener….Every time Al-Maliki is going to Iran, he starts to issue inflammatory statements against [the Kurdish Regional Government] instead of correcting his previous political faults and make amends instead. It’s unknown whether this is Iran’s policy or part of the doomed mentality of Al-Maliki himself….Al-Maliki’s threats come hand in hand with the weak and wicked policy of Baghdad, which lacks [the] capability to put a limit to the unlawful acts of Shiite groups in Iraq….It’s a big lie if we believe that Shiites can run a rational government far from a total hegemony. Quite the opposite, they’re moving rapidly towards a big political abyss. And this time it will lead to the failure of Iraq as a state.”

But Iran is not the only country attempting to influence post-IS Iraq. Both the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region have serious misgivings about Turkey’s role in the already complex conflict.  In a recent visit to Iraq, Turkish Prime Minsiter Binali Yildirim acknowledged this discomfort, while indicating, according to a recent Gulf Today report, that Turkey is unlikely to stay on the sidelines: “Turkey reserves the right to take measures inside Iraq to defend itself against terror threats but would no longer need to do so once such threats are removed, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Monday. Iraq has long demanded that Turkish forces withdraw from the Bashiqa camp near Mosul in the north of the country. The issue was discussed during a meeting of the two countries’ prime ministers in Baghdad on Saturday. ‘The Bashiqa camp is there because of terror which originates in Iraq, and it is our right to take measures against this. If the threat is removed, there will be no need to,’ Canikli said in an interview with A Haber television. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Saturday agreement had been reached with Turkey over a withdrawal from Bashiqa, but Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stopped short of confirming this.”

In an attempt to find a more sustainable path for cooperation between the two countries, Hurriyet Daily News’s Serkan Demirtaş proposes a joint energy-investment scheme to tie the two countries together: “As the entire Middle East has been dragged into the abyss with unending armed conflicts and left reeling by deep political and social crises, Turkey’s attachment and its will to cooperate with regional countries has vital importance. It has been proven that the absence of sound dialogue between regional countries only makes things worse and puts each and every state in jeopardy….The Turkey-Iraq reconciliation process requires a holistic approach and needs to be seen as complementary to the Turkey-Russia partnership to broker a nationwide cease-fire in Syria and to launch a new political engagement to peacefully resolve Syria’s unrest….The most likely area where the two neighbors can invest jointly is energy. As a major oil producer, Iraq might opt for the Turkish route to transport its reserves to world markets and Turkey could see its southern neighbor as a big market with a young generation.”

Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top