The necessity to handle the crisis through a realistic lens
A critical Turkish foreign policy objective has been to protect Iraq’s territorial integrity.
In this regard, eliminating the option of a Kurdish state – as well as preventing any statement or agreement that would lead to such an outcome – has been one of Turkey’s most sensitive priorities. Averting a referendum leading to Kurdish independence in Iraq was a necessity based on this strategic priority.
However, even though Turkey has had warm relations and an upper hand against Iraqi Kurdish leaders, it was not able to avert the referendum.
In the upcoming period, it is not realistic to expect the independence decision to be withdrawn or reversed. So, Turkey has to learn to live with and be at peace with this new reality. What needs to be done now is to minimize the harm this new situation could cause on Turkey and follow a road that will divert the path towards Turkey’s strategic interest from now on.
How these developments mixed with internal politics and how valor dominated the issue are serious roadblocks towards a rational and calm attitude that the situation requires.
We must admit that a territorially united Iraq – as in the past – has been Turkey’s dream since the First Gulf War in 1991. Following the United States’ (U.S.) occupation of Iraq in 2003, that dream became unrealistic. What has been left behind these two wars is Shiites taking over central power, Sunnis, who had held authority since 1991, losing ground on all fronts and a northern autonomous Kurdish region for the past quarter of a century.
Can you fix a broken vase? Looking forward, the worst-case scenario is Iraq’s partition into three territories as the division intensifies. The best-case scenario is, an Iraq that is more flexible on the constitution passed by a referendum in 2005, allowing the already-federal texture of the country, preserving its territorial unity. What seems most realistic at the present under the current conditions is a loose federation under Iraq’s rule and within Iraq’s borders.
A solution in this regard would require persuading the Kurds to avert declaring independence and instead stay within the boundaries trusting powerful affirmations Baghdad would give for a more autonomous region for them.
Kirkuk would be one of the most critical subjects in such a process. Kirkuk, a land populated by Turkmen throughout history, “Arabized” during the Baath regime and “Kurdified” especially after 2003, has witnessed assimilation policies and the region’s transformation.
Taking into consideration the balance of Turks and Arabs there, one possible exit strategy could be to eliminate the possibility of this region becoming a conflict zone by giving it a special status and designing it so everyone who lives there has the right to speak.
Persuading all actors of this situation to such a solution strategy makes it necessary for the maneuver of rational diplomacy, dense consultation processes with Baghdad and Tehran and, despite all, keeping communication lines open with the Kurdish leaders. Such a solution requires involving the U.S. and Russia in the correspondence process.
All the same, a solution for Iraq is placed in common vessels and, so, the developments in Syria will have a say in it as well. It is not possible to know what Syria will look like after the war and how the northern Iraqi Kurds will be placed in a new Syria.
On a last note, the status Kurds will gain in both our southern neighbors will be one of the most important topics in the years ahead.
Rationality calls for Turkey to resolve its Kurdish problem within its borders in order to face the developments that lie ahead without losing time.