Akif Beki - Hürriyet / Istanbul, March 5 () - Turkey is willing to support a possible operation to reclaim Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but it will avoid any direct combat unless it is attacked on its own soil, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on route to the United States on March 4.
“We would support Mosul, but we will not engage in direct combat. We will only respond if there is a direct attack on Turkey. We possess both the potential and the might for that” Davutoğlu told reporters, adding that Turkey would “back groups supported by the people” and considered Atheel al-Nujaif to be the legitimate elected governor of Mosul.
Commenting on preparations to take Iraq’s second largest city back from ISIL, mainly conducted by the Iraqi army, Davutoğlu outlined Turkey’s “four basic policies on Iraq,” with the central government in its southern neighbor being Ankara’s number one priority “for the sake of Iraq’s sustainability.”
The second policy is the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, he said, again highlighting that the Turkish army was continuing to support the Peshmerga, the fighters of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The third policy is the security of Turkmens in the country, while the fourth is working to avert further Sunni-Shiite clashes in Mosul, Davutoğlu stated.
Throughout all four policies, Turkey prioritizes the sustainability of areas close to its borders, he said.
“For example, if Arbil fell [to ISIL] this would be problem for us in terms of national security. Places close to the border must not be under the threat of terror” he said.
The prime minister also warned against Shiite militia replacing ISIL militants in Iraq when the latter are gone, as is also the case in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition does not prioritize such issues, but Turkey should back the coalition in a manner that envisions “one step beyond” he said.
“The coalition says, let’s clean up ISIL and then we will look at what to do” he said, using the Arabic abbreviation of the jihadist group.
“This is a wrong strategy. The fire is at our border and it is us that it burns the most” he said, adding that “some intelligence organizations” wanted the clashes and chaos to continue.
Davutoğlu said Turkey has been insisting on a train-and-equip program for three years, but it has only just been accepted by Western countries for fighting against jihadists.
“The international community now agrees on what we were saying three years ago. Over this three year period, ISIL has become rooted in the region. If the moderate Syrian opposition had been supported three years ago, then ISIL would not have been able to reach such a point” he said, calling on the international community not to force the Syrian people to make a choice between the “barbarism of the regime and ISIL.”
The Syrian regime is supported by Russia in terms of arms, while ISIL holds U.S. guns seized in Iraq, he observed.
“The moderate opposition has only light weapons. Considering this situation, their struggle seems very successful” Davutoğlu stated.
Meanwhile, the prime minister also touched on the recent evacuation of Turkey’s military personnel protecting the historic Tomb of Süleyman Şah, as well as the artifacts in the mausoleum in a Feb. 21 overnight operation jointly conducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). He said it “sent a message that Turkey may go 40 kilometers into Syrian soil immediately whenever it wants to.”
He also said Turkey was willing to take on the Syrian military, “if the Syrian regime threaten us, even with only one bullet.”