Syria, Iraq ablaze as Turkey goes to polls
There is not much hope for an immediate stabilization in the Middle East as developments in both Iraq and Syria are sufficiently proving.
The U.N.-led Geneva process aiming at drafting a political transitional period in Syria has concluded its fifth round without a concrete progress, while the fragile cease-fire in Syria is almost coming to an end, particularly after the Syrian regime allegedly used chemical weapons around the northern town of Idlib, killing dozens of civilians.
The use of chemical weapons – once a red line for the former United States administration – will surely have a negative effect on the continuation of the Astana process under the auspices of Turkey, Syria and Iran, which the Syrian opposition would reject being part of as it only brings about more bloody attacks from the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Once the truce was achieved after initiatives of Turkey and Russia late December 2016, the two countries have declared themselves as the guarantors of this cease-fire and would monitor the violations on the field. That is why it’s important that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 4 to recall that such breaches by the regime would undermine the effectivity of the Astana process.
Idlib has become the “new Aleppo” in the eyes of the Syrian regime as many armed members of radical Islamist groups have been sheltered in the city since Aleppo was evacuated in mid-December. But Idlib is also home to around more than 2 million civilians currently and a potential military offensive into the city can push a fresh massive influx into Turkish territories.
There are reports that Russian and Syrian armies are in cooperation with some armed units of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) for a potential joint action on the radical Islamists very soon. This is thought to be simultaneous with the U.S.-led coalition’s massive operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and is expected to be launched within weeks.
Another agreement between the two super powers is on the future of al-Assad, as Washington recently strongly underlined that it would have no problem with the continued role of the Syrian president in power.
All these developments will put additional aspects on Ankara’s already dire relationships with both Russia and the U.S., particularly in Turkey’s post-referendum period, regardless of the result that will prevail.
Iraq is not much different. In line with already announced strategy, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has begun working on a prospective referendum on an independent state after successfully incorporating Kirkuk into their territories. Kirkuk, a city with sizeable Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish groups, illustrates a difficult situation as the current Iraqi constitution cites a vague status for the oil-rich city’s future. Kirkuk has around 10 percent of Iraq’s entire oil reserves, which represents nearly three percent of all oil reserves in the world. Thus, having Kirkuk will give an important advantage for the Kurds to survive as an independent state.
Ankara has voiced its opposition to both KRG plans to hold referendum for independence and incorporating Kirkuk into the Kurdish area. This issue has particular significance for Turkey because of the existence of Turkmens, who have great influence over domestic politics in Turkey as well.
It’s in this geographical context that Turkey is going to a decisive referendum for its future. Regardless of what the result of the polls will be, Turkey will find itself in a more difficult framework to navigate in uncharted waters.