The delicate question of Iraq’s sovereignty

Outcry over Turkish troop deployment turns spotlight on other foreign forces – notably Iranian – operating in Iraq.

Haider al-Abadi
Prime Minister Abadi gave Turkey a 48-hour ultimatum to withdraw its forces, but that didn't happen [Carolyn Kaster/AP]

I will start with a joke I got as a message on my phone.

It reads: “Iraq moves its aircraft carrier Tiswahin off the coast of France, deploys thousands of Atta 2000 missiles, mobilises hundreds of tanks and fighters jets. Obama calls PM Abadi to calm him down. Abadi replies, ‘I don’t even know my father when sovereignty is at stake.'”

Turkey has violated Iraq’s sovereignty, Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi prime minister, says. But that is not new.

Turkey been doing so since the 1990s when Iraq was under Saddam Hussein’s rule.

After the US-led invasion of 2003, Turkey carried out an all-out war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, which is based in the mountainous region of northern Iraq.

Turkish fighter jets still bomb PKK targets on Iraqi territory.

To be fair to Turkey, on several occasions there was agreement, or at least Iraqi government consent, for Turkish troops to pursue the PKK.

The Turks also set up bases in northern Iraq to curb PKK activities.

But now there is an Iraqi outcry after Turkey sent hundreds of its troops and tanks to a military camp near the the city of Mosul.

Basheeqa camp row

Iraq called it a blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty. The government gave Turkey 48 hours to withdraw its forces. The Mobilisation Force, seen as Shia paramilitary units, has also threatened to attack Turkish interests in the country.

Now that the deadline is over, the foreign minister says that Iraq will take its case to the UN and Arab League.

The Basheeqa camp near Mosul, Turkey says, was set up last year upon the request of Abadi to train Iraqi forces and volunteers to fight ISIL.

Iraq calls for Turkish withdrawal from Mosul area

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera: “They [ISIL] had entered Mosul and started to expand in the north of Iraq. During his visit to Turkey in 2014 Mr Abadi requested assistance in the form of training. We formed a camp at Basheeqa. And they know that well.

“Now ask him, where [Abadi was] when we formed this camp? He was so silent during all this time. Now, due to the developments in the region you are taking this step?”

Analysts will say what really irks the alliance made up of Shia-led Iraq, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – backed by superpower Russia – is the fact that the troops are Sunnis and they are being trained by Turkey, a Sunni power.

Protecting the state’s sovereignty is crucial. And I think many Iraqis would support taking military action against any violating force – just like Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet it said had violated its airspace. 

But there seems to be a double standard at play here, many observers say.

Not only is Turkey violating Iraqi sovereignty. Some Iraqis say their government is putting its sectarian interests over its national ones.

The Shia-led government does not see the intervention of Iranian “advisers” as foreign forces in the country – because they are both Shia and key allies.

Records show that the Iraqi government did not take a firm line, like it has done with Turkey, when General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force – an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – showed up on battlefronts with ISIL.

Soleimani is leading the Mobilisation Force‘s war against ISIL fighters in Iraq. He is, by all accounts, the mastermind of Iran’s influence over post-Saddam Iraq.

Muted objections

The other obvious irony is that Iranian Shia visitors stormed a border post less than two weeks ago, and more than half-a-million entered Iraq without visas to commemorate the 40th-day anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Iraqi foreign ministry objected to the incident politely.

There were also muted “objection letters” to Iran when a senior adviser to President Hassan Rouhani said earlier this year that now Baghdad was the capital of the Persian empire.

Don’t forget the American troops and who knows from how many other countries are currently operating in different corners of the country.

Reports suggest these special forces do what they want without even notifying the Iraqi authorities.

The sovereignty of a state is also violated when militias expand out of proportion and become more powerful than the state and its army. And that’s exactly what is happening in Iraq right now.

The truth is, Iraq is so weak now that all of its neighbours are meddling in its affairs and trying to gain influence.

Source: Al Jazeera