Turkey, in support of Sunni Turkmen, is expected to oppose Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s decision to allow Iran-allied Shiite militias to participate in the offensive to retake Tal Afar, considered the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) largest remaining stronghold in northwestern Iraq.
“The participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces in this battle might not be without a cost because Turkey has on several occasions said that it will take every measure to protect the Turkmen of Tal Afar if the Hashd al-Shaabi forces do participate,” reports Rudaw.
Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU/PMF), refers to an umbrella organization of mainly Iran-allied Shiite militias.
PM Abadi initially said that only the Iraqi army and police would be taking part in the Tal Afar offensive but later changed his mind.
“The Hashd al-Shaabi and the Hashd al-Ashayeri forces will be taking part in recapturing Tal Afar,” he declared late last week.
Ahmed Asadi, spokesperson for the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, adds, “The command of joint operations will design the plan for recapturing Tal Afar. All the Hashd forces and brigades will participate in the process.”
Rudaw described the participation of the Iran-affiliated Shiite militiamen in the operation to retake Tal Afar as “problematic,” noting that some regional countries like Turkey have come out against it.
Tal Afar is an ethnic Turkmen city in northern Iraq’s Nineveh, a province along the Syrian border that was once home to the largest concentration of ethnoreligious minorities in the country.
Turkey has long opposed the participation of the PMU in the Tal Afar offensive, citing violence against Sunni Turkmen at the hands of the Shiite fighters.
Turkmen, the third-largest ethnicity in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, lived in Tal Afar along with Arabs and Kurds until ISIS pushed out all the Shiites who made up the majority before the jihadist group conquered the town.
While many Sunni Turkmen joined ISIS, their Shiite counterparts went to the PMU.
“Sunnis, most Turkmen, and Turkey regard the participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces as a red line,” notes Rudaw.
PMU fighters have been accused of atrocities and war crimes against Sunnis. Some analysts have expressed concerns about the PMU using Tal Afar to link up with Iran-allied militiamen in Syria.
“Shiite Turkmens are accused of being supported by the armed Popular Mobilization Units seeking to establish a Shiite province in a Sunni environment, to serve as a safe land route for Shiite factions and Iranian forces to Syria to ensure logistic communication and armament,” reports Al Monitor.
“On the other side, Sunni Turkmens have been calling for the Turkish army to participate in the upcoming military operations to liberate Ninevah, to protect them along the front lines of the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], which is protecting the Kurds in Syria and Iraq,” it adds.
U.S.-backed local forces in Iraq have shifted their focus from recently liberated Mosul to Tal Afar.
“ISIS has dug tunnels between most villages and has made preparations. They have made more preparations for this war than they did for Mosul offensive and this is because fighting is their only way,” Haider Waili, an Iraqi military intelligence officer, told Rudaw.
PMU fighters have been contributing to the efforts to push the Sunni terrorist group ISIS out of Iraq, proving to be essential to the success of the Mosul offensive, according to the U.S. military.