ISTANBUL - A dispute continues to deepen between Ankara and Baghdad over the presence of Turkish soldiers near the Iraqi city of Mosul.
?he spat erupted after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the country and the region by surprise last month by calling into question the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkey’s borders.
He declared Turkey had been blackmailed by foreign powers into giving up vast swaths of territory that were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Although Erdogan focused his criticism on the loss of Aegean islands to Greece, it is Turkey’s southern borders he had in mind, according to visiting Carnegie Europe scholar Sinan Ulgen.
“The message should be seen more of a signal in relation to Turkish polices towards the south, Syria and Iraq. I read it as a backdrop to a policy that tries to build domestic support for a more long-term presence, particularly in Syria, by pointing out, at allegedly past historical mistakes," Ulgen said.
Turkish forces are currently in Syria and Iraq. But the Turkish presence at the Bashiqa base, close to the Iraqi city of Mosul, has become the center of a deepening dispute with Baghdad. The base is ostensibly tor training Sunni militia to fight Islamic State.
On Tuesday, Erdogan dismissed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s calls to withdraw Turkish troops, telling him “he should know his place.”
Erdogan also insisted Turkish forces would participate in the imminent operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants.
Security interests or more?
Deputy chair of the Ankara-based Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies, Murat Bilhan, insists Ankara has no territorial aspirations toward Iraq.
“Turkey just has been repeating and repeating rhetoric that Iraq should be a unified country, but it is not a unified country anymore. Turkey has some security interests in Iraq, to stop any kind of migration flow from Mosul as well as in Syria,” Bilhan said.
Analysts say Erdogan’s calling into question the Lausanne treaty in connection with the Bashiqa dispute will cause unease in Baghdad, especially amid growing speculation about whether Iraq will eventually break up.
Observers say regional powers are already positioning themselves in an expected power struggle for control of Mosul when the Islamic State group is ousted from the city.
Analyst Ulgen says Mosul and the nearby city of Kirkuk have special significance for Turkey.
“Both Mosul and Kirkuk, not only were they part of the former Ottoman lands, they were part of the original design of the modern-day Turkey, so in that sense there is certainly historical and emotional connection to those two cities, Mosul and Kirkuk,” Ulgen said.
While the Lausanne treaty is historically viewed in Turkey as a victory for Turkish diplomacy, nationalists blame it, and British diplomats, for the loss of Kirkuk and Mosul, which include substantial oil reserves.
For Erdogan, who is courting nationalists at home, the Mosul card could fit well in his wider strategy of creating what he calls a “New Turkey.”