Turkey has expressed five reservations over the upcoming Mosul operation to the U.S. during a meeting in Ankara, including opposition to any moves to handover Iraq's Tal Afar district to a Shia militant group, a Turkish diplomatic source said Wednesday.
The reservations were expressed when Antony Blinken, U.S. deputy secretary of state, and Brett McGurk, the U.S. State Department's special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter Daesh, met Turkish diplomatic authorities Tuesday to discuss the Mosul operation.
Tal Afar for Turkmen
According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, while the U.S. authorities assured Turkey that Hashd al-Shaabi -- an umbrella group for Shia militants -- would not enter the Mosul city center, the Tal Afar district would be handed over to the militant group.
Turkey made it clear it supports the homecoming of all Sunni and Shia Turkmen people to Tal Afar after the operation, but it did not want the Shia militant group to settle in the district.
According to Turkey's point of view, the sectarian conflict in the war-torn country, which began soon after the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, would move into Tal Afar by some groups, including Hashd al-Shaabi.
Also, Turkey warned the U.S. authorities the Shia militant group could trigger the same sectarian conflict in Tal Afar as the country witnessed after the 2003 occupation. Moreover, Turkish authorities said the Turkmen would be harmed the most by the presence of Shia militants in their district.
The Turkmen people have been oppressed ever since the Daesh terrorist organization occupied Mosul and Tal Afar in 2014.
Before the occupation, the population of Tal Afar was 510,000; however, this has now reduced to just under 50,000, mostly consisting of Turkmen.
Life support for Assad regime
Turkey also warned the U.S. the Iraqi Shia militia group could try to form a new land connection between Iraq, Iran and Syria via Tal Afar after a similar route was lost when Daesh captured Mosul.
Also, the Peshmerga forces loyal to Kurdish Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani control the border at Sinjar. The Shia militia group would then use PKK's support at Sinjar border to reach Syria, which would eventually make military and other logistical transfers from Iraq and Iran to the Bashar al-Assad regime easier.
Daesh still controls half of Sinjar district, while the PKK controls the city center and the parts along the Syrian border. According to Turkish intelligence reports, terrorist PKK group currently has around a thousand militia members in the region, mainly consisting of Yazidi citizens.
PKK’s permanent stay in Sinjar
PKK militants entered Syria by claiming it would fight against Daesh, but instead it chose to settle in Sinjar district after clashes.
The Kurdish Regional Government, on the other hand, wants the terrorist PKK group to retreat from the region.
If the Shia militants get Tal Afar, it would mean the regional government would lose power to the PKK. Also, it would ensure the PKK’s permanent presence in Sinjar.
Ankara told the U.S. that any situation that would enable the PKK to have a permanent presence in Sinjar would be "unacceptable", according to the source.
Need for simultaneous operations
Turkey highlighted the importance of launching simultaneous operations against Daesh in the Syrian city of Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul, which could deal a big blow to the terrorist group, the source said.
If the United States only gives importance to an operation in Mosul, then Daesh militants may flee to the stronghold in Raqqa, the source said.
Ankara also warned the U.S. government that the Mosul operation "should not harm" Turkey's recently-launched Operation Euphrates Shield.
Turkey says Operation Euphrates Shield, launched on Aug. 24, is aimed at bolstering border security, supporting coalition forces, and eliminating the threat posed by terror organizations, especially Daesh.
The operation is in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international treaties and a mandate given to Turkey’s armed forces by its parliament in 2014, which was extended for another year in September 2015.
‘Mosul for people of Mosul’
According to Turkey, it has provided training to local fighters of Mosul in Bashiqa region since early 2015 at the request of Iraq’s regional government.
These fighters, who all hail from Mosul, now want to return to their lands, according to the source. However, the government in Iraq, which is now said to be under the influence of Shia militants, does not want give any role to be given to these trained fighters because they were Sunnis, the source added.
Turkish officials also reminded the U.S. counterparts the fact that it was the Iraqi army which abandoned Mosul when it faced Daesh. They also warned their U.S. counterparts that terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda may gain support following the expected fanaticism of Shia militants in the region.
In the end, Turkey told U.S. officials: "Mosul belongs to people who are from Mosul", adding the country was ready to support artillery units in Bashiqa, the source added.