By Yaşar Yakiş
June 25, 2014
The worrisome advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist organization in northern Iraq is likely to change some of the paradigms in the region.
One of them is Turkey's relations with ISIL. There was an expectation that the hostages who were taken by ISIL at the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul, northern Iraq, would be released earlier, but this has yet to happen. Whatever way the hostage crisis is brought to an end, Turkey will have to distance itself further from ISIL.
Second, Turkey woke up to the bitter reality of Sunni Turkmens cooperating with ISIL in northern Iraq to fight their Shiite kinsmen. In other words, Sunni Turkmens have found themselves in the same boat with the kidnappers of the Turkish consular staff in Mosul. Turkish authorities will have to sort out this complicated dilemma. Several fine tuning will be required to achieve this daunting task.
Third, the seizure of Tal Afar and Tuz Khormato forced the Shiite Turkmen populations of these towns to flee to safer areas. Some of these areas are protected by Kurdish security forces called Peshmerga. But the Shiite Turkmen's entry to such areas is subject to a number of restrictions, because Kurds fear that the arrival of non-Kurds in their settlements may change, to their detriment, the ethnic composition of the settlements.
Fourth, ISIL's seizure of strategic points such as oil wells and refineries is another source of worry for the Iraqi authorities, the United States and other members of the international community. The more such strategic targets fall into ISIL's hands, the more ISIL will increase its already extensive sources of income.
Fifth, the defiant statement by ISIL that Baghdad and Shiite holy places such as Karbala and Najaf are also among their targets has caused great discomfort for the central authorities in Baghdad. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently paid a visit to Baghdad to seek ways to sort out this complicated situation.
The easy gains of ISIL in northern Iraq have encouraged it to take similar bold initiatives in Syria as well. It besieged the government-controlled airport in Qamishli, close to the Turkish border. If the airport falls into ISIL's hands, Turkey's perception of what is a threat will have to be adjusted accordingly. This unfortunate development coincides with a statement by German authorities saying that they are considering the withdrawal of their Patriot missiles deployed in Malatya, Turkey, as part of the NATO air defense system.
The biggest beneficiaries of the ISIL expedition in northern Iraq are the Kurds. The final status of Kirkuk was the most important unresolved issue between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). After ISIL's invasion of northern Iraq, the Iraqi army withdrew from the region without firing a single shot and left the oil rich city of Kirkuk unprotected. The Kurds have always regarded Kirkuk as their historical capital. It stood just outside their autonomous region and they have long dreamt of seizing it. The withdrawal of the army has provided the Kurds with a golden opportunity to get a hold of the city and strengthen their grip.
In my final analysis, ISIL's initiative in northern Iraq has brought the Kurds one notch closer to their ancestral aspiration of an independent Kurdistan, because the status of Kirkuk was the most important sticking point in the solution of the conflict between the KRG and the central authorities in Baghdad. Now that they effectively control the city, it will be more difficult to push them back from the point that they have reached.
Having said this, we should still keep in mind that the present de facto control of Kirkuk by the Peshmerga does not mean that the sovereignty over Kirkuk is now automatically transferred to the KRG. Kirkuk hosts almost all of the ethnic and sectarian groups that exist in Iraq and they all are interested in the final status of the city.
At one stage, the status of Kirkuk was also one of the red lines for Turkey because of the sizeable Turkmen population living in this city. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq may now oppose Turkey's involvement in the search for a solution of the Kirkuk issue, which he is conducting in cooperation with the United States.