How has Turkish foreign policy failed in Iraq?

Murad Nasibov

Davutoğlu with John Kerry and Syrian Opposition Council Chairman Moaz al-Khatib in İstanbul, May 2013 - US Department of via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu with John Kerry and Syrian Opposition Council Chairman Moaz al-Khatib in İstanbul, May 2013 – US Department of via Wikimedia Commons

This analysis attempts to generally assess the foreign policy of the AKP-led government of the Republic of Turkey towards the current situation in Iraq. Three hardly correctable mistakes can be identified in the foreign policy of the incumbent Turkish government. The first and biggest mistake was when Turkey together with the US and the UK supplied the weapons of fallen Gaddafi’s regime to Islamic military groups in Syria in support of their fight against B. Asad, and provided them with all necessary support such as opening of borders for all those coming from different corners of the world, as far as Siberia, to fight in Syria against Asad’s regime. Highly probably, there were some tourist agencies and real estate companies that were established for these purposes.

The second mistake was when Turkey supported the quest of the Kurdish authorities in Iraq for financial independence by allowing them to sell oil exploited in the northern part of Iraq through Turkish port Ceyhan which was against the agreement signed between Turkey and the central government in Bagdad. Without doubt this happened with the pressure of the US and Europe whose companies had already sealed exploration and production agreements directly with the Kurdish authorities in Erbil. By undermining the central Iraqi government in Bagdad in many other ways Turkey has also contributed to the increase of the influence of Iran which is the only actor in the region that can send its Generals to mobilize and build military groups.

The third mistake was when Turkey recognized that no role was designed for Turkmans in the new game which is mostly about oil. From the very beginning of the war in Syria, Turkey has also sought to use those Islamic military groups to counter balance the Kurdish authorities in the northern Iraq, leaving Turkmans aside who used to more or less play the same role before. Yet, the attack of Islamic military groups on the Kurdish authorities just only strengthened the justification of West’s support to the Kurdish authorities. More importantly, those Islamic military groups could never be as legitimate as Turkmans in the northern Iraq who now are not allowed by the Kurdish authorities to return to the places where they had used to live before ISIL attacked. Instead of supporting Islamic military groups, Turkey should support Iraqi Turkmans to become a more recognized actor in the northern Iraq.

Why has Turkey left aside its long established natural partners in the region? Was it because no role was recognized for Turkmans from the very beginning? Or it was because they are Shiite although ethnically Turkic. Another reason could be that Turkey has been ensured of dissolution of its own internal Kurdish issue and will benefit from the export of oil from its territory (the main business company in the business is the British-Turkish Genel Energy). Indeed, Turkmans are most sufferers in Iraq, caught between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities in the northern Iraq. Just before the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, Turkmans were one of the red lines drawn by Turkey – Turkmens should have had the control of their own territories including oil rich Kirkurk city. However, after the Turkish parliament’s rejection of a US operation in Iraq via Turkey, the red lines related to the Turkman were rejected as well. Since that Kirkurk went to under the control of the Kurdish authorities and Barzani has been trying hard to change to demographic make-up of Kirkuk and Mosul since 2003. Since 2003, Turkey could not ever be able to defend its red line, if any is left, related to Turkmens. Having no armed forces and facing continuous pressure by the Kurdish authorities in the northern Iraq since 2003 and now being attack by ISIL, Turkmens have become much closer with the central government in Baghdad rather than Turkey. Initially, when Turkmens demanded to have their own forces in order to repel ISIS attacks, the central government in Bagdad rejected it on the basis that the constitution does not consider any armed forces other than the Iraqi army and regional guard forces (Kurdish Peshmerga).

Yet, the strengthening control by the Kurdish authorities of the Turkmeneli – Turkmen areas has left no chance for the central government in Bagdad to meet this demand of Turkmens. Currently, Turkmens has allied only with the central government in Iraq. Turkey has thus almost totally lost its natural allies in the region.

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