The final offensive aimed at liberating Mosul, the "capital" of the Islamic State in Iraq, caused tensions to resurface between Baghdad and Ankara, in a region where Turkey aspires to gain a leading role in defending its economic and strategic interests. In recent weeks, exchanges of accusations have multiplied between representatives of the Turkish and Iraqi governments, regarding Ankara’s military presence in northern Iraq. The already latent bilateral tensions re-emerged on October 2 with the statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an interview with the Saudi radio station "Rotana", in which the Turkish head of state was warned of "possible sectarian clashes" in the next step in the liberation of Mosul, a city divided between the Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen communities, but where Christian and Yazidi minorities are also present. "Any action to liberate Mosul should be conducted by those who have ethnic and religious links to the city", stated Erdogan, saying that he was opposed to the participation of Iraqi Shiite militias in the military campaign. "Once Mosul is liberated" added Erdogan "only Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Sunni Kurds should remain there". These statements, together with the decision of the Turkish Parliament to renew, for another year, the mandate of military missions in Iraq and Syria as of September 30, have led to very harsh reactions from Iraq.
Iraq calls for the withdrawal of Turkish "occupants"
The Parliament in Baghdad has not hesitated in passing a resolution to call on the government to take "legal and diplomatic measures" against the permanence of Turkish troops in Iraq and, at the same time, to reconsider its economic and trade relations with Turkey. In the following days came the call for a UN Security Council meeting on the presence of Turkish "occupants", in addition to the convening of a protest demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad. Ankara officially deployed 150 military trainers and 25 armed tanks in the region of Bashiqa, a few kilometers from Mosul, in December 2015 to train Turkmen militia and Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers: a contingent which the representatives of the Iraqi Shiite community have often requested the withdrawal of. Turkey, however, has no intention of giving up its presence in northern Iraq, where it can rely on a solid alliance and economic partnership with the administration of Massoud Barzani, President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Major Iraqi reserves at stake
Now that the final contest for Mosul is underway, Ankara, which has already actively entered into the ongoing conflict in Syria, does not want to be excluded from the "management" of the post-liberation phase, during which the future structure of Iraq and, therefore, a new dividing of the country’s rich oil resources, could be decided upon. Anglo-Turkish company Genel Energy already has two oil licenses in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the regions of Taq Taq and Tawke, and has recently stated its desire to sign an agreement with the government in Ankara and with that in Erbil for the development of gas fields in the autonomous region. The company, which has its headquarters in the United Kingdom and a regional office in Ankara, manages 80 percent of the oil and gas fields of Bina Bawi and Miran, in Iraqi Kurdistan and, according to sources familiar with the matter and cited by the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet", may sell a stake to TEC, a joint venture that includes the international division of the Turkish state-owned company TPAO. This agreement would ensure Turkey, whose energy needs are continuously increasing, a new supply of gas. Turkey also has an agreement with Kurdistan for the export of Kurdish oil via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The province of Kirkuk, which is rich in oil, is one of the areas most disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi national government.
The redistribution of the region of Kirkuk
In Kirkuk, as in Mosul (located 170 kilometers further north), the population is mixed, formed by a Kurdish majority and by Arab, Christian and Turkmen minorities. The Kurdish Peshmerga took control of Kirkuk in August 2014, after the Iraqi army had retreated from the advance of Islamic State and, in fact, it is now the government of Erbil that runs most of the oil sites in the area. With the imminent defeat of the Jihadist group, the region of Kirkuk will also therefore be subject to a dispute between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Central Government in Baghdad, although, for now, the two governments have reached an agreement on oil exports from wells in the area that are still under the control of the Iraqi company NOC (North Oil Company) – those of Gurgur, Khabaza and Jambouri – that produce 150,000 barrels of oil per day. It is likely that, even in this future dispute over Kirkuk, Turkey may advance its claims in exchange for its support of the Peshmerga in Erbil.