I knew that I would be very sad when I saw Baghdad, and that was indeed the case last week, when I went there for the first time, with a journalists’ group, accompanying the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) delegation. As far as I understand, the war is still not over, and civil strife is still persistent after all these years! The bad news coming from all over the Middle East, while we were in Baghdad, only contributed to the feeling of grief.
As for the CHP’s controversial trip to Iraq, I think it was a good step to improve relations with the country, if this is possible. Despite government circles seeming to hate this move from the CHP, the opposition party was very determined not to turn the issue into a political polemic. The CHP
leader has never been critical of the government’s international policy that led to the crisis situation between Turkey and the Nouri al-Maliki
government of Iraq. Nevertheless, Iraqis did not miss any opportunity to underline their resentment concerning the Turkish government’s “interference in the internal affairs of Iraq,” as they put it.
There are many reasons behind the deterioration of Turkey’s relations with the al-Maliki government, but its peak came in 2012 when Turkey gave refuge to Sunni
Vice President Tariq al-Hasimi, who was accused of supporting terrorism and sentenced to the death penalty. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Kirkuk - without informing the central government in Baghdad - created another crisis. Finally, the Iraqi government’s refusal to give permission for Energy Minister Taner Yıldız’s plane to land in Arbil indicated another one. Yıldız was in his way to Arbil to participate in an energy conference, but his plane had to go back and land in Kayseri. Despite his own moderate reaction, the conflict between the Turkish and Iraqi governments has often turned into political polemics. Moreover, Turkey’s attempts to bypass Baghdad in order to establish direct economic relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq escalated the crises. For almost two years now, Turkey has been in direct confrontation with Baghdad.
As a result, we heard a lot of criticism of Turkish foreign policy during our trip, and the issue of “Turkey meddling in our domestic politics as an extension of neo-Ottomanism” came up many times. Furthermore, Iraqis used every opportunity to remind us of the shortcomings of Turkey’s politics on Syria.
It was no surprise to hear a lot of criticism (although in a polite way) during a political trip to a country that Turkey has had bad relations with recently. Nevertheless, it seems that nowadays there is no place in the Middle East to avoid hearing criticism and resentment towards Turkey, apart from Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. In fact, it is rather unfair to accuse Turkey and its current government for all ills, and it isn’t possible to guess whether any other government could do better under the circumstances. Still, it’s clear that things could not be worse, and the fact that the government still refuses to see its failures and moreover insists on justifying its mistakes is very frightening.
Some criticize the government for disguising Turkey’s “splendid isolation” as “precious loneliness.” However, I am now afraid that even the chances to be “isolated from trouble” may diminish. Even if Turkey may be able to afford loneliness, it may not be so easy to be isolated from the regional fire.