World View: Turkey Warns of Sectarian War as Iraq Ejects Islamic State from Tal Afar

The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Done with Mosul, Iraqi forces begin operation to eject ISIS from Tal Afar
  • Turkey warns of sectarian war following battle of Tal Afar
  • President Trump to announce US strategy in Afghanistan

Done with Mosul, Iraqi forces begin operation to eject ISIS from Tal Afar

Iraqi girls play in a Mosul schoolyard (Reuters)
Iraqi girls play in a Mosul schoolyard (Reuters)

Iraqi forces launched an offensive Sunday to recapture the city of Tal Afar, which fell in 2014 to the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). The offensive comes a month after the forces declared that the city of Mosul had been recaptured from ISIS, leaving Tal Afar as the only remaining large stronghold for ISIS in Iraq.

The recapture of Mosul took nine months of extremely brutal house-to-house fighting, as the streets were too narrow for tanks and other vehicles. Furthermore, the ISIS forces used women and children as hostages in houses where explosives were stored and ISIS militias fought off the Iraq forces.

The Iraqi military is claiming that the recapture of Tal Afar will be much easier because it is smaller and because the streets are much wider in most parts of the city. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets across the city say, “The battle is imminent and the victory is coming, God willing.”

Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi announced Sunday in a televised speech to the nation that ISIS militias should surrender or die: “I am saying to Daesh [ISIS] that there is no choice other than to surrender or die. [To the Iraqi troops] the whole world is with you.”

However, ISIS fighters have dug trenches around the city and can use light machine guns, improvised explosive devices, and car bombs to stop the Iraqi forces, using a strategy similar to what they had adopted in Mosul.

Some 40,000 Iraqi fighters are participating in the offensive. As in Mosul, a US-led coalition will provide support to the Iraqi forces. According to a statement issued by Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend on Sunday:

The coalition will continue to help the government and security forces to liberate the Iraqi people and defeat ISIS through five means: by providing equipment, training, intelligence, precision fires and combat advice. …

In accordance with the laws of armed conflict and in support of its partnered forces who are risking their lives every day in the fight against an evil enemy, the coalition will continue to strike valid military targets, after considering the principles of military necessity, humanity, proportionality and distinction.

Before 2014, Tal Afar had a population of around 200,000. However, most of the people have been fleeing the city, and it’s estimated that only 10,000 to 40,000 civilians remain. It’s believed that there are about one or two thousand ISIS militants and their families still in the city. Iraqi News and International Business Times and Dept. of Defense

Turkey warns of sectarian war following battle of Tal Afar

The population of Tal Afar is mostly ethnic Turkmens, which are ethnically related to Turks, and which are part of Turkey’s identity group. An estimated 60% of the Turkmens are Sunni, while the remaining Turkmens are Shia.

So Turkey is expressing a great deal of concern that most of the fighters in the Iraqi forces are from the Iran-backed Shiite paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi militias. Turkey is concerned that once Hashd al-Shaabi takes control of Tal Afar, there will be ethnic cleansing of the Turkmens.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on record as saying that Turkey would intervene if this kind of ethnic cleansing takes place. In October 2016 he said:

I conveyed this to all authorities loud and clear. Tal Afar is entirely a Turkmen town. Half the town is Shiite and the other half Sunni. We are looking at them holistically as Muslims rather than Shiite or Sunni. However, if Hashd al-Shaabi terrorizes [Tal Afar], our response would certainly be different.

Iran’s last generational crisis war was the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. This was not a war of Sunnis versus Shias. It was an ethnic war of Arabs and Turkmens versus Persians, with Sunnis and Shia involved on both sides. It was an extremely bloody war, with something like 1.5 million people killed, climaxing when Saddam Hussein began using chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

So Turkey’s concerns are that now you have Iran-backed militias that will take control of Tal Afar, with its population of Turkmens, and conduct revenge attacks for the Iran/Iraq war – which is possible and may even be likely.

Furthermore, Iran is known to have a strategy of taking control of a swath from Baghdad to Damascus, and Iranian control of Tal Afar would be a big advance on that strategy. Anadolu (Ankara) and Sabah (Ankara) and Al Monitor (1-Dec-2016) and NY Times

Related Articles:

President Trump to announce US strategy in Afghanistan

President Donald Trump is planning a nationwide televised address from the Oval Office on Monday evening, with the purpose of explaining decisions that he’s made regarding the US strategy in Afghanistan.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the whole US strategy in Afghanistan at length, including the options recommended by Steve Bannon. Now that Bannon has left the White House, it will be interesting to see whether Bannon’s recommendations are followed on Monday evening.

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Mosul, Tal Afar, Haider al-Abadi, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh Stephen J. Townsend, Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran, Turkmens, Hashd al-Shaabi, Iran/Iraq war, Syria, Afghanistan
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.