Similarly, it was stated that Turkey would consider different plans for the Mosul operation. What do you think these B, C and D plans contain? Under what circumstances do you think Turkey will have to activate these plans?
I believe Turkey and Iraq will agree on participation in the operation, because both local forces and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) support Turkey's presence in the region. At least they don't oppose it. It seems that a compromise was reached with the U.S. and the coalition forces. But there are some important issues here from the point of Turkey. First of all, Turkey is worried that the terrorist PKK will create a new entity and a second Qandil (a sanctuary and a central command center). Turkey will take the initiative if Iraq and the coalition forces do not take steps regarding the issue during and after the Mosul operation. Again, a possible refugee influx from the region is another cause for concern for Turkey. This process should be managed properly. If Iraq and the international community fail to do this, Turkey will take its own measures again.
Also, the plight of Turkmens in the region is important for Turkey. Especially sensitivity about Tal Afar is at the highest level. Returning of local people to their homes after the liberation of Tal Afar and preventing ethnic and sectarian conflict are among the priority issues for Turkey. I think Turkey will take the initiative when such a threat emerges.
Turkey has worries that the PKK will be included into the operation to provide legitimacy to it and will enter the Turkmen city of Tal Afar. Do you think current developments justify these worries?
Recently, the PKK has been trying to establish itself around not only Tal Afar but also other Turkmen territories in Iraq. We already know that it has maintained control of Sinjar. Having established a de facto administration in Sinjar, the PKK seeks to create a new canton there. Using local Yazidis as partners, PKK further strengthens its position in the region with this support. Again, we know that it conducts a series of activities in and around Kirkuk. For Turkey, PKK has gone beyond being a terrorist organization only. It threatens the Turkmens, too. Further, it infringes on Iraq's sovereignty as well. It capitalizes on the weakness of Iraqi government and the power vacuum in the region to increase its presence and leverage. For this reason, we can assert that the PKK threat is a growing ever stronger.
On Oct. 25, a meeting of the defense ministers of around 20 anti-Daesh coalition countries will be held in Paris to discuss the Mosul operation. What do you think the agenda of the meeting will be and what arguments will Turkey bring up?
Turkey's priorities regarding Iraq and Mosul are known. Turkey attaches priority to maintaining the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, eliminating the threat posed by the terrorist organizations PKK and Daesh, ensuring social and political balance in Mosul, preventing a sectarian conflict, managing the refugee crisis, administration of Mosul by local people, and to protecting Turkmens in general and those in Tal Afar in particular. I think these issues will be brought to the table again.
So, how will the Mosul operation affect Turkey's relations with the U.S., Iraq and Iran? Do you think Turkey's divergence with these states will continue?
Turkish-American relations have gone through ups and downs since the very beginning of the anti-Daesh struggle. We have witnessed this clearly in Syria. The U.S. has chosen to ignore Turkey's sensitivities. It has provided overt support to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), PKK's Syrian offshoot. Again, it opposed the creation of a safe zone in Syria, which Turkey has demanded since the beginning of the process. And finally, relations have further soured when Turkey launched the Operation Euphrates Shield to seize Jarabulus. As Turkey has made significant headway against Daesh on the ground, the U.S. had to step back. So much so that the U.S. has come to provide aerial support to the operation. We observe the same ups and downs regarding the Mosul operation. Relations with the U.S. may be strained as Turkey makes countermoves to neutralize potential threats from Mosul. On the other hand, Turkey tries to avoid a confrontation with Iran over Iraq. Both countries follow their own policies. Though occasional policy conflicts arise between Turkey and Iran, they do not seriously affect their bilateral relations. We can say that Turkey and Iran distinguish bilateral relations from regional issues. Turkey's relations with the central Iraqi government have not been going well since 2010. Although steps are taken at times toward improving bilateral relations, their continuity cannot be ensured. As is known,the Bashiqa issue has made bilateral relations tenser than ever. But both countries are seeking a compromise. However, Iraq should understand it well that Turkey wants stability in the region. It is ready to do everything it can to make Iraq stable again. Hence,it would be fitting for Iraq to benefit from Turkey's offer of help. Straining of relations would not bring any good to either party.
Finally, what do you think about the timing of the Mosul operation? Is it just a coincidence that the operation began on the eve of the U.S. presidential elections?
We already knew that the U.S. planned to launch this operation immediately before the presidential election in November 2016.Previous statements by U.S. officials about the operation pointed to October 2016. So, it's difficult to talk about mere coincidence. U.S. President Barack Obama wants to end his term after fulfilling his promises. At the same time, this would also play into the hands of Democrats during elections. Polls suggest that Hillary Clinton, candidate of the Democratic Party, holds a solid lead over her rival. The launch of the Mosul operation also provides Clinton an advantage. For all countries including the U.S. itself know well that the operation cannot be completed in a short time. Again, it's difficult to say that the necessary preparations were completed before the operation. Besides, though Irbil and Baghdad are said to have agreed on operation plans, it's impossible to talk about full coordination on the ground.This, in turn, creates unease in Iraq over the future of the Mosul operation. But Iraqis also know that the operation is unlikely to succeed without U.S. support. In short, the timing of the operation was decided primarily by the U.S. And Irbil and Baghdad have complied with that decision.