Iraqi Government and Turkmens’ Situation
While the fight against ISIS and the Mosul operation are ongoing in Iraq, new ministers have been appointed to the Ministries of Interior and Defense in the elections held for the positions which fell vacant on 30 January 2017. Qasim al-Araji from the (Shiite) Badr Organization has taken office as Iraqi Minister of Interior and Irfan al-Hayali from the (Sunni) Unity Alliance of Iraq as the Minister of Defense. Besides these ministries, the candidates have also been voted down for the Ministries of Industry and Commerce but the nominations have not been approved. Inam al-Obeidi and Yusif Ali al-Sadi nominated by Haider al-Abadi for the Ministry of Industry have not been approved by the Iraqi Parliament while Najmaddin Mohsin Abbas, who is of Turkmen origin and nominated from Tuz Khurmatu for the Ministry of Commerce has not been appointed upon the objections of Turkmen members of parliament. Notably President of the Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kerkuk Deputy of Iraqi Parliament Erşat Salihi and MP in the Saladin Province Niyazi Mimaroğlu have firmly objected to Turkmen candidate nominated by Haider al-Abadi to Iraqi Parliament on the grounds that he is a member of Dawa Party and he has a sectarian-oriented identity. Therefore, the nomination of Najmaddin Mohsin Abbas has not been approved by Iraqi Parliament. On the other hand, Haider al-Abadi has not accepted the nominee Yalcin Mahdi al-Bayati put forward by Iraqi Turkmen Front. That is why the position for the Ministry of Commerce has been left vacant and the problem has remained unsolved with respect to Turkmen representation. Turkmens have already lost the last ministry since the number of ministries decreased upon the decision of the Iraqi government in August 2015 and since the transformation of certain ministries into one single ministry. Human Rights Ministry undertaken by Mohammad Mahdi al-Bayati was abolished upon the decision of the Iraqi government and Turkmen representation was removed from the government. This causes considerable unrest among Turkmens. President of the Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kirkuk Deputy of Iraqi Parliament Erşat Salihi clearly expresses dissatisfaction and takes each opportunity to indicate that the Iraqi government does not keep the promises it made to Turkmens. Erşat Salihi explicitly states that Turkmens opt for a minister who will be away from sectarianism and will literally represent them and otherwise, they will not accept a candidate who will be nominated in order to represent Turkmens, without any negotiations with them.
Indeed, Turkmen identity is gradually eroded in Iraq. While Turkmens are not appointed to the positions they deserve in the Iraqi political system in post-2003 period, they are also pushed into the background every passing day both in local and general politics. Having been forced to fade into background in political terms especially since ISIS formed areas of influence in Iraq in June 2014, Turkmens have faced all atrocities provoked by ISIS. Turning into a direct target for ISIS, Turkmens have had to migrate from the cities such as Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Diyala under the control or influence of ISIS, notably Tal Afar and Mosul. As of the current situation, it is said that more than 600 thousand Turkmens seek refuge. Some Turkmens have migrated to such regions as Najaf, Karbala and Hilla on the southern Iraq and some others to Dohuk and Erbil on the north while a part of them has left for Turkey. Therefore, Turkmens have become a minority in the receiving regions. Deprived of their social life, Turkmens have felt alienated in the regions where they have migrated and have faced problems like unemployment and lack of education.
Moreover, Turkmen settlements still face ISIS threat even though important progress has been made in the fight against ISIS. For instance, Amirli, a Turkmen town in Tuz Khurmatu, was blockaded by ISIS for 86 days in 2014 and this organization attacked this town again on 6 February 2017 but Turkmen forces in the region repulsed these attacks. ISIS sometimes launches attacks in Turkmen regions in and around Kirkuk. On the other hand, the eastern part of Mosul has been cleared from ISIS in the Mosul offensive launched on 17 October 2016 and preparations are focused on the western part. However, it is estimated that ISIS will show stronger resistance in the western side. Furthermore, the density of population and the compact city structure on the western front will aggravate the conditions to carry out the operation, thus it is estimated that the operation will last longer than it did on the eastern front. Should the Mosul offensive slow down, this may negatively affect the operation in Tal Afar since it will not be sufficient to clear the regions from ISIS but it will also be important to determine those who will ensure security and the means of providing security in order to sustain stability in the regions cleared. Turkmens will not be able to return to Tal Afar before the end of the Mosul offensive even though Tal Afar is cleared from ISIS before Mosul.
On the other hand, the defusion of the sectarian tension triggered by ISIS among Turkmens in Tal Afar will be one of the most important problems to solve before Turkmens return to Tal Afar. Indeed, Turkmens have not yet been able to return to their settlements such as Yangijah and Bastamli in the vicinity of Tuz Khurmatu even though these Turkmen settlements have been cleared away from ISIS. The reports that ISIS is supported by some groups in Yangijah and Bastamli which have a dense Sunni Turkmen population has heightened the tension among Turkmens in Tuz Khurmatu populated by Shiite Turkmens. This tension has not yet been defused and no compromise has been made in this regard. Likewise, it will be necessary to take steps for social compromise on Tal Afar after the latter is liberated from ISIS. Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jan Kubis also took a step in this sense and negotiated with Turkmen officials.
However, it does not seem possible to find a solution to Turkmens’ problems in the short term. While the fight against ISIS continues, great efforts should be made to carry out reconstruction works and redress political-social balance in the post-ISIS period. Within this framework, efforts shown in order to solve at least some of Turkmens’ problems will relieve Turkmens if not considerably. As of the current situation, further improvement of Turkey-Iraq relations may also make it more possible for Turkmens to have a better position in Iraq. However, the most critical point which will solve Turkmens' problems is that Turkmens should primarily adopt a more holistic attitude and set their identity as a priority rather than their political interests which will lead to disintegration among them.