In Kurdistan, one thing is for sure: You can never be sure

Florian Neuhof
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Covering Iraqi Kurdistan requires a certain mental dexterity: Just when you think you've finally understood the complexities of local politics and the autonomous region's complicated relations with the outside, something happens that you didn't expect.

The same day the Kurds took Sinjar from ISIS last month, fighting broke out between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi Shia militia in Tuz Khurmato, a town on the fringes of Kurdish controlled territory. Both are supposed to be fighting a common enemy, but the tensions between Kurdish and Iraqi nationalism are never far from the surface. It wasn't so much that I wasn't aware of the dynamic, but the timing and brittleness of the alliance against the terror group did leave me scratching my head. Too often the fight against ISIS resembles an ill-conceived dance; one step forward, one step back.


Then, earlier this month, it emerged that Turkey had sent tanks and troops to a training base near Bashiqa, an area now under Kurdish control. The central government in Baghdad immediately cried foul, seeing the move as an infringement on Iraq's national sovereignty.

The case is not quite as clear cut as the headlines suggested. The Turkish army had dispatched instructors to the base some time ago, and had helped in setting up the facility, where they are now providing military training to several thousand men from Mosul. The emerging force is to provide security in Iraq's second city once it has been retaken from ISIS. Baghdad was aware of these activities, but had opted not to complain until then.

It is also unclear what prompted the Turks to beef up their presence at Bashiqa. Is it the growing strength of the PKK in the autonomous region? Turkey regards the neo-Marxists Kurdish nationalist guerrilla group (like most things Kurdish, the PKK defies an easy description) as a terrorist movement, and has geared its foreign policy in Iraq and Syria to curbing its influence.

Or is it a response to Russian involvement in Syria? Ankara is smarting from Russia's hands on military assistance to Damascus, which runs counter to its efforts to depose of Assad. The Turks could be using their foothold in Bashiqa to increase their sway in Iraq in response to their diminished influence in Syria.

Who knows? All that I know is that a deepening insight is not going to insulate me from surprises.

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