Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan need each other
The division of Iraq and the emergence of an independent Kurdish sate on its borders was once a nightmare scenario for Turkey. Ankara warned on many occasions that it would not watch idly as the U.S. or Europe acted as midwife to such a sate.
The idea by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, when he was still Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, that Iraq should be divided into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions was not only met with derision, but was also taken by anti-Kurdish Turkish nationalists as proof about what the U.S. really planned for the region.
Biden is wiser now and Washington’s efforts are aimed at trying to keep Iraq intact in order to avoid any new regional conflict. It seems, however, that there was no need for a U.S. plan for Iraq to come to the brink of division. The country’s own contradictions appear sufficient for that.
Ankara now sees that the struggle between Iraq’s Sunni’s and Shiites is increasing the probability of such a division. In the meantime, Turkey has lost all clout over Baghdad, given the harsh exchanges between Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki - who says Ankara is interfering in his country’s affairs.
Thus, Turkey’s nightmare seems to be coming home to roost, especially with increasing speculation that the Iraqi Kurds are getting ready to declare independence if things in the country get out of hand. But given the events in region, it is interesting that this prospect is not as scary for Ankara as it was in the past.
To the contrary, a stable and prospering Iraqi Kurdistan that has increased political and economic ties with Turkey will probably end up being a buffer for Ankara against increased turmoil in other parts of Iraq.
In the meantime Joost Hiltermann, a senior member of the International Crisis Group and expert on Iraq, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 02 saying that “Turkey’s involvement could pave the way for the Kurdish government to exchange fraying ties with Baghdad for Turkish protection”
Hiltermann said we “could see the emergence of an oil-rich, Kurdish-run Turkish vassal state in Iraq.” That is pushing it a little of course, but it is a fact that events have forced Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey to be closer than anytime in the past.
The PKK lodged in Northern Iraq’s mountains is still a thorn in these ties, of course, but even this highly touchy topic is not being allowed to poison the atmosphere between Ankara and Arbil. Meanwhile, it is demeaning for the Kurds of Iraq to be told they could end up as “Turkish vassals,” especially since it is clear that enhancing Turkish-Kurdish ties will be beneficial to both sides.
On the other hand, Turkey is in the throes of trying to solve its own Kurdish problem that is also laced with continuing terrorist attacks by the PKK. An Iraqi Kurdistan that is politically independent and which declares it has no territorial designs on Turkey could also be helpful in efforts to solve this problem.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders for their part are also aware that there is no sense in endangering the gains they have secured for their people over these past two decades by opting for tension with Turkey. As it is they have enough problems with Baghdad at the moment.
Turkey on the other hand sees that developments in the region did not go quite the way Foreign Minister Davutoğlu expected, and that there is no sense in causing added headaches by quarrelling with the Iraqi Kurds.
The Arab spring has shown that the sides need cooperation more than they need confrontation.