The battle for influence in Iraq between Iran and Turkey appears to be escalating to a dangerous level as Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia forces are set to capture the Turkmen-majority city of Tal Afar from the Islamic State. Tal Afar is located about 40 miles west of Mosul.
On November 18, Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNA) reported that the Iraqi Hezbollah militia forces had forced a Turkish aircraft to “escape” from Tal Afar’s airspace. And two days earlier, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) told FNA that militia forces captured Tal Afar military airbase and were readying to “liberate” the center of the city from the Islamic State.
Kata’ib Hezbollah (or Hezbollah Brigades) is an Iraqi Shiite militia with close links with Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese Hezbollah. The group, now fighting under the PMF umbrella, was founded in 2007 by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a close ally of IRGC Quds Force Chief Qassem Suleimani.
The news of PMF territorial advances into Tal Afar prompted an angry reaction from Ankara.
On November 20, Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin warned that Turkey would not remain silent to PMF’s military advances in Tal Afar. “(Iraqi) Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had pledged through the United States that al-Hashed al-Shaabi [PMF] would not enter Tal Afar, but on the ground, it seems they did enter,” Kalin complained.
Turkey’s limited troop deployment inside Iraq has also soured ties between Baghdad and Ankara. And the increasingly active role of Iran-backed Shiite militia forces in the Sunni-majority Mosul risks provoking a larger military involvement by Turkey.