By Scott Taylor
It was reported on Sept. 4 that Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies had successfully pushed Daesh evildoers from their last strongholds along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim proudly told the media that the seizure of this 91-kilometre stretch of territory will deal Daesh a serious blow. Without access to this border territory, Daesh will no longer be able to bring in supplies and fresh volunteers to join its ranks, explained Yildirim.
This sounds like a reason to celebrate, but given that Turkey does not need to enter Syria to seal the border, the question begs: Why was Daesh allowed to use this conduit through Turkey up until now?
For those who still view this complex regional and, by proxy, international conflict as a simple good versus evil — with Daesh being pure evil — the recent Turkish military intervention will be seen as a plus.
Over the past few months Daesh has been defeated and driven out of several of its self-proclaimed caliphate’s key urban centres. Following the recapture of Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia have been pushing northwards in an effort to isolate Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and Daesh’s last major bastion in Iraq. At the same time, Kurdish militia, many of them trained by Canadian special forces, have been encroaching upon Mosul from the north. With their supply lines cut by the Turks, the Daesh garrison in Mosul will be hard pressed to resist the allied offensive that is expected to be launched in earnest sometime this fall.
Again, to the casual observer this would sound like very welcome news. The good guys will defeat the evildoers, Daesh will be eradicated from Iraq, the citizens of Mosul will be free, and our troops can be home by Christmas.
The problem with this script is that there are no good guys in this scenario, only less evil perpetrators and victims. The population of Mosul is comprised mainly of Sunni Arabs who were effectively marginalized by the Shiite Arab governing regime in Baghdad. That was why the Mosul residents had welcomed the Daesh horde when it first captured their city in the spring of 2014. They saw Daesh as the lesser of the evils and their only hope for prosperity.
They will not see themselves as being liberated by the Iranian-led Shiite militia, which now effectively besieges Mosul from the south. During the U.S. occupation from 2003–11, the Sunnis and Shiites waged a bitter civil war against each other and those scars remain deep and fresh. Following the successful recapture of Ramadi and Fallujah, the Shiite militia engaged in murderous reprisal killings against suspected Sunni Daesh supporters.
Then there are the Kurdish militias. They are fighting to create an independent Kurdistan and have no intention of ever again submitting to a central Iraqi regime in Baghdad. In a very controversial attempt to form a bond with their Kurdish trainees, Canadian special forces trainers have been wearing the flag of Kurdistan on their uniforms. In a post-Daesh Iraq, this seemingly petty symbolic gesture will take on a far greater significance. Canada’s stated foreign policy is to support a unified Iraq, and that includes the three Kurdish provinces.
There have already been clashes between Kurdish militia and the Iraqi security forces, even as they jointly battle the common enemy Daesh. There is no way that the Canadian-trained Kurdish fighters will give up Kirkuk and the lucrative Baba Gurgur oilfields, which they seized in 2014 when Iraqi security forces fled from Daesh.
The Canadian-trained Kurdish fighters have no incentive to risk their lives recapturing and garrisoning Mosul; in true Middle East-style diplomacy, they will have negotiated something tangible towards their statehood in exchange for providing the ground forces to eliminate Daesh. This, in turn, will not sit well with the Baghdad regime and their Shiite militias, which Canada’s foreign policy purports to support.
Given that our NATO ally Turkey is now battling Kurds inside Syria to prevent them from consolidating an independent territory, things are going to get very interesting.
The elimination of Daesh as the evil focal point will not end the conflict; it will simply make it far more complex. And in the middle of all this chaos are some earnest Canadian trainers foolishly wearing the flag of Kurdistan on their sleeves.