Turkey Provokes Head-to-Heads with Iran, Its Proxies and ISIS
Since the suicide attacks that killed 44 people in Istanbul on Saturday, Dec. 10, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been beating the war drums against two enemies: the Shiite militia in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria.
1. For dealing with the first, Erdogan is championing the Turkmen minority of Iraq in two Iraqi towns. He is demanding negotiations for a political solution among the various groups living in the oil city of Kirkuk, including the Turkmen.
But more ominously, he has posted a threat of military intervention should the Iraqi Shiite Hashid al-Shaabi militia attack the Sunni Turkmen civilians in the strategic town of Tal Afar near the Syrian border.
Such intervention could bring forth an Iraqi declaration of war on Turkey, since the Iraqi parliament on Dec. 22 ruled that the 110,000 Shiite militiamen were henceforth regular members of the Iraqi national army.
While Baghdad is in no state to go to war against the Turkish army if the Shiite militia is attacked, a proxy confrontation would develop. The conflict could slide down a slippery slope because this Shiite militia is under the direct command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Therefore, Tehran might regard a Turkish attack on the Hashid as tantamount to aggression against Iran itself.
Tehran has another gripe with Ankara in Syria. The Turkish invasion of northern Syria last month is seen there as an attempt to curtail Iran’s own military interests in that country. The Iranians want that invasion terminated with all possible speed.
2. In northern Syria, Turkish forces advanced this week up to the northern and western gates of ISIS-occupied Al Bab, a key town situated 55 north of Aleppo. By driving the jihadists out of this town, the Turks could open a corridor from Al Bab to Aleppo.
This would go against Russian and Syrian interests.
The Islamic State does not field enough strength in Al Bab to withstand a full-scale Turkish military offensive. But Erdogan is holding back for now from ordering his army to go forward into the town. .DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that on Monday, Dec. 12, the Turkish ruler received intelligence that groups of Hizballah and other pro-Iranian militias were detached from the Aleppo operation and were on their way to cut the Turkish army’s potential advance on Al Bab.
In two countries therefore, The Turkish president is playing with fire. He is provoking potential military showdowns with multiple adversaries – Iraq, Iran, Hizballah, pro-Iranian militias and the new Shiite branch of the Iraqi army – separately or all together.
However, Wednesday, Dec. 14, before the Hizballah and Shiite militias reached the scene, ISIS drones flew in and bombed Turkish tank units around Al-Bab. This was the first major ISIS air strike in Syria. Two days earlier, an ISIS TOW missile destroyed a Turkish Leopard 2A4 tank in the same area, killing four crew members.