As the battle against the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or the Islamic State (IS) as they now call themselves) heats up south of Turkey's border, Ankara has been accused of awkwardly sitting on the sidelines as its allies fight the organization -- or, even worse, providing support to the group.
But is the Turkish government now preparing to enter the battle against ISIS? In recent days, Turkish tanks have been deployed along the Syrian border, in an area where Kurdish fighters are battling an ISIS advance (resulting in a wave of refugees entering Turkey). More significantly, the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has forwarded to parliament a motion that would allow Turkey to send troops into both Syria and Iraq (a vote on the bill, which is almost certain to pass, is expected on Thursday). Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
The mandate the Turkish government is seeking from the Parliament to authorize the army to send troops into Iraq and Syria to deal with growing threat of extremist jihadists does also include opening its bases to foreign troops, a senior government official has said, signalling about potential Turkish contribution to the international military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“The motion we are about to send the Parliament is going to be comprehensive and to deal today’s and tomorrow’s threats,” deputy Prime Minister and spokesperson of the government, Bülent Arınç told reporters Sept. 30 following weekly cabinet meeting.
Upon a question whether the motion to be sent to Parliament will include sending troops to foreign countries to establish security zones, to allow deployment of foreign troops and to open Turkish military bases to foreign troops, Arınç said “Let me include one more option: All. The motion will refer to all of these points you have asked.”
“We are a determined government. We perfectly know what’s going on inside and outside Turkey. This issue of security zone and other issues all have diplomatic and military reflections,” he added.
Interestingly, the growing possiblity of a Turkish military action against ISIS in Syria is in many ways tied up with the fate of the tomb of Suleyman Shah, an 11th-century Turkic warrior who was the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Based on treaties signed with the French in the early days of the new Turkish Republic, the land the tomb sits on, near the banks of the Euphrates, is considered Turkish soil and is guarded by permanent garrison of Turkish soldiers.
In recent days, ISIS fighters have reportedly been advancing on the site of the tomb and there have been rumors circulating that they have even taken the Turkish soldiers there hostage. Should something happen to the tomb and the Turkish forces guarding it, Ankara would very likely be forced to respond military. ISIS may have been behind the kidnapping of Turkey's consul general and 45 other Turks in Mosul and responsible for creating a massive refugee problem on the country's border, but it's the fate of a long deceased Ottoman ancestor that might ulimately draw Ankara into the conflict in Syria.