Is Turkey ready for a free Kurdistan State?
Since June 10, the day when jihadist terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized control of Mosul, the situation in the field has been getting worse every day, with the worrying prospect of a large scale civil war between Iraq’s two prominent sects, Shiites vs. Sunnis.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his address to European Union ambassadors on Tuesday, described the situation in the neighboring country as a “civil war” and underlined that the only way to escape unwanted developments was the formation of a coalition government in Iraq. By coalition government, Erdoğan means the establishment of an all-inclusive government that will embrace Iraq’s different ethnic and sectarian groups without discrimination.
He stressed thatgrowing sectarian-based unrest had brought the country to the edge of fragmentation and warned that Iraq was going through an even bloodier period compared to the civil war that took place in 2007 and 2008. The international community is also responsible for today’s picture because it downplayed Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian policies, Erdoğan accused.
“Spoiling al-Maliki is one of the reasons for what we are observing nowadays,” he said. “The Iraqi army is composed of 98 percent of Shiites, in order to create the base of a sectarian conflict. Can you imagine something like this?”
Erdoğan’s statement that there is a need for a new inclusive government is in fact shared by the majority of members of the international community, including the United States.
Erdoğan-Biden talk twice in three days
Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden have held two phone conversations over the last three days, and we understand the two leaders share the view that there is a need of a new government in Iraq that would respond to the demands of all ethnic and sectarian groups. Erdoğan has also talked to British Prime Minister David Cameron, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu continues his phone diplomacy with almost all of his colleagues from countries having to deal with the problem in Iraq. Davutoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to meet in Brussels on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, to discuss developments in Iraq, in the aftermath of Kerry’s two-day talks with Iraqi politicians in Baghdad and Arbil.
At the point where we have arrived, many countries do agree on the fact that Prime Minister al-Maliki is the main person responsible for the current unrest in Iraq because of the implementation of his sectarian policies, which discriminated heavily against Sunni groups in the country. Although the national election on April 30 allowed him to continue his rule for a third consecutive term, his decision to delay the process and unwillingness to share power with Sunni groups is one of the main reasons for the ongoing crisis.
Will al-Maliki leave?
The question is now whether al-Maliki will agree to leave his current stance to a more moderate politician who will create a window of opportunity for cooling down the fire. There are efforts underway to find alternative Shiite leaders, like Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani, or another prominent figure from the al-Maliki coalition. But as foreign diplomats put it, would al-Maliki accept an exit strategy like this while his neighbor Bashar al-Assad successfully keeps his post, despite more than three years of civil war? And one additional question: Would al-Maliki do so while he gets open support from both Iran and Russia?
The understanding is that the Americans will not give any political or military support to Iraq under the al-Maliki government. And this message was delivered by Kerry during his talks in Baghdad on Monday.
Turkey’s hands tied
As for Turkey’s position, as a country with at least 80 citizens being held hostage for the past two weeks, one could say that its hands are tied concerning developments in Iraq. “Iraq is burning in front of our eyes, it’s moving towards fragmentation,” a senior Turkish official told the Daily News, capturing the mood in Ankara over the developments in Iraq.
In line with the international community, Turkey wants the rapid formation of a new and “all-inclusive” government, underlining that the territorial integrity and political unity of the country should be protected. In addition, clearing Iraq from terrorist elements is also on the list of priorities, as it sees jihadist terrorism as an important security challenge of tomorrow, if not of today.
Scenarios envisaging an independent Kurdish state are increasingly being voiced by Iraqi Kurdish leaders; Ankara is still voicing its well-known official line that Iraqi territorial integrity and political unity must be maintained. Having said that, under the given conditions of a country where public order is non-existent and where heavily armed jihadists have seized control of nearly one third of the territories, a self-declaration of Kurdish independence would unlikely receive a strong reaction from Ankara. That sparks a new question: Is Turkey ready for an independent Kurdish state?