Shia paramilitary groups to enter Iraq’s Tal Afar despite Turkey’s opposition

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A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier (R) stands next to a member of the Iraqi PMU at a security checkpoint in Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq. Photo: Pierre-yves Baillet /ARA News

ARA News

The Iraqi Joint Operations Command, headed by General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah, on Friday confirmed that the Shia-majority Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) will march on the ethnic Turkmen town of Tal Afar, despite previous opposition from Turkey, while the Iraqi army and police will take Mosul city.

Iraqi Shia paramilitary groups launched an operation on 20 October, 2016, to retake the town of Tal Afar from ISIS and to cut off ISIS supply lines from Mosul to Syria.

However, early on in the campaign, it was decided that PMU would only isolate Tal Afar while the Iraqi army would take the town, due to objections by Turkey that the PMU would commit sectarian abuses against the Sunni Turkmen population in the town–that used to be inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Turkmen until ISIS evicted all Shia Turkmen.

Currently, there are just 50,000 Sunni Turkmen left in the town.

Turkey has also opposed any involvement by Shia paramilitary groups or the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Mosul operation.

“Tal Afar is a very sensitive issue for us. We definitely do not regard it [the militia’s involvement] positively in Tal Afar and Sinjar. I already told this to officials clearly,” Turkish president President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 29 October, 2016.

Many Shia Turkmen later joined the PMU forces to take the town back from ISIS.

However, on 7 January, 2017, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, which signaled an improvement in Turkish-Iraqi ties.

Now the Iraqi National Security Advisor Falah Fayad says the PMU forces could enter Tal Afar.

“Turkey is preoccupied with the PKK in northern Iraq and mostly dropped its agenda of pushing Baghdad away from Mosul and Tal Afar,” Ali Özkök, a Eurasia-Analyst told ARA News.

“Baghdad reportedly signed a deal with Turkey to keep Hashd [PMU] out of Mosul and have army and police take it,” Joel Wing, an Iraq expert who runs the Musings on Iraq blog, told ARA News.

“Now that’s apparently changed and the PMU will liberate the town of Tal Afar probably because they don’t have enough ISF forces with the attack on west Mosul coming up and Turkey hasn’t said anything yet,” Wing said.

The new agreement would most likely be a victory for Iran that backs the Shia military groups to create a corridor from Tal Afar to Syria.

“The PMU have talked about protecting the Shiite Turkmen population there for a long time,” Wing told ARA News.

“Iranian-backed groups also want to control it because it is a route to the Syrian border and would allow Tehran to ship men and material from Iran through Iraq to Syria [in support of Assad regime],” he concluded.

After the US removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, Tal Afar became a smuggling hub for Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq, and the Assad regime ferried in foreign fighters into Iraq to destabilize the country. “Now Iran wants to use it to prop up the Syrian regime,” Wing.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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