Iranian-backed units may have targeted Turkish base in Iraq

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A secretive Turkish base in Iraq came under rocket fire last week. Turkey’s Anadolu news, which represents the government’s narrative, said that the rocket pads used to launch the attack were found in an area controlled by the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Sha’abi or PMU in northern Iraq.

“The missile launch pads that targeted the Turkish military base were found between the areas of Shalalat and Baaweza in the territory of the Hashd Brigade 30,” Rafaat Smo, the deputy governor of northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, told the Iraqi Kurdish RUDWA news agency Friday.

The report notes that last Wednesday, three rockets were fired on a Turkish base in the northern Iraqi town of Bashiqa. “One rocket landed inside the base, martyring a Turkish soldier, while the other two landed in a nearby village, injuring two civilians, including a 12-year-old girl,” Anadolu says. Turkey’s media is now pointing fingers at the PMU and linking it to Iran.

Some tensions have grown between pro-Iranian groups in Iraq and Turkey in recent months. They actually date back to 2015 when Baghdad complained about Ankara establishing new bases in northern Iraq. Turkey has had forces in Iraq claiming to be fighting the PKK since the 1990s. Turkish intelligence has also infiltrated Iraq at various times. In 2003 Turkish agents were detained in the so-called “hood incident” in Kirkuk.

Turkey has also had close ties to Turkmen in Tel Afar; it has historically had close relations with Mosul and Nineveh, an area it once claimed. Turkey also has close ties to Erbil and the Kurdish authorities there.

In December, Turkish forces at Bashiqa were wounded in an ISIS attack. Turkey at the time was training some locals to retake Mosul from ISIS. The secretive base, a compound ringed by cement walls beneath a mountain, eventually included several small outposts with armored vehicles and firing positions. They helped counter ISIS mortars in 2016 and supported local Kurdish Peshmerga positions.

After Mosul was liberated and ISIS was largely defeated in Iraq, Turkey kept its base. It has threatened since 2018 to invade Sinjar, an area that was once held by Kurdish Peshmerga but is now held by Iraqi federal forces and the PMU. Turkey alleges the PKK operates in Sinjar. The area is home to Yazidis, and Turkey has carried out numerous airstrikes.

IN FEBRUARY 2021, Turkey summoned the Iranian ambassador over remarks alleging it had violated Iraq’s sovereignty. “Summoning Ambassador Mohammad Farazmand, the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed the country’s rejection of the accusations leveled by Iran’s envoy in Baghdad, underlining that Ankara is fighting the PKK terrorist organization, which targets Iraq’s stability, security and sovereignty, said the sources,” noted Anadolu at the time.

Meanwhile, the PMU sent three brigades to Sinjar to counter any Turkish invasion. Turkey alleges that the pro-Iranian PMU work with the PKK. Iran-backed groups have been increasingly vocal about demanding that Turkey leave Iraq and saying they could target it. Iran also threatens to target US forces in Iraq.

Qais Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq that is linked to Iran, has been increasingly vocal in opposing Turkey’s role in Iraq. He has said Turkey entered Iraq and won’t leave willingly – and that it poses more of a danger today than the US.

This all underpins the attack that took place on the Turkish base. To target the base, the militias needed coordinates for a compound that is relatively secretive and which is also not easy to get to. It is not clear what rockets were used, but 107mm and 122mm rockets are the usual Iranian profile.

The area the rockets were fired from is under the control of the Shebek 30th Brigade, an affiliate of the Badr Organization and part of the PMU. The Shebeks are a Shi’ite minority in Nineveh. It is not likely that the unit fired the rockets, but it’s more likely professionals came from outside. This has been the case in the past, such as the 122mm rockets used against Erbil in 2020 from the same area.

It is not clear if Turkey will complain to Iraq about the attack or retaliate. It does not want to increase tensions with Iran. Turkey, Iran and Russia have worked together on economic deals and on de-confliction in Syria. Turkey and Iran also tend to oppose the US presence in Syria.

They don’t always agree on Iraq or on broader regional issues. However, Ankara prefers to concentrate its talking points on the “PKK” rather than Iranian-backed groups. This is despite the fact that now an Iranian-backed group appears to have killed a Turkish soldier.

Ankara may claim the rocket attack was carried out by the PKK. Photos online show 122 mm-style rocket rail launchers. This would point to a more sophisticated Iranian connection. If that is the case, the attack on the Turkish base is a major escalation and comes amid the drone attack on the US in Erbil.

Source » jpost

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