Seeing in Barzani a reliable partner for Turkey

Seeing in Barzani a reliable partner for Turkey

An acquaintance of mine who is a car mechanic is preparing to start business in Northern Iraq. A supporter of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and a person who did his military service as a commando in the southeast, my conversations with him have not suggested that he had liberal views on Kurdish issues. After his first visit to northern Iraq, he came back saying “They really like us there,” his eyes shining with the potential of a lucrative business.

One of the government’s most important accomplishments has been on the front of northern Iraq. Relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have flourished, on both the economic and political levels, so much so that the relationship between Turkey and Massoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, has never been any better. Otherwise how can we explain the government’s recent decision to buy oil directly from northern Iraq despite the objection of the Iraqi central government and at the expense of scraping its own red line? That red line was to prevent Iraqi Kurds from bypassing the central government and acquiring sole authority over the energy resources of the region, which will bring them closer to independence much faster.

The government probably had a twofold aim. First, it wanted to challenge the central government in Baghdad, with whose policies Ankara is truly uneasy. Second, it wanted to increase the interdependence between Turkey and the KRG as well as to continue engaging Barzani, hoping to gain his support for its policies against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

To continue the policy of engaging Barzani by temporarily giving up using one of the most important trump cards, namely holding the key to access to international markets for the KRG’s energy resources, must entail a certain degree of trust in Barzani, as well as a healthy analysis of what Barzani wants, his policies and where he places Turkey in these polices. Until the turmoil in Syria began, everything suggested Turkey was opting to trust Barzani.

It seems, however, that Barzani has surprised Turkey by joining hands with the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD) which is believed by Ankara to be closely affiliated with the PKK.

Barzani should have informed Ankara properly about his moves in Syria.

Anyone who challenges this view should then admit and convince us that Barzani has reached such a point of self-confidence that he sees himself as strong enough to confront Turkey, at a time when he is in trouble with the Iraqi central government, whose latest decision to send soldiers to the north has even further angered the Kurdish leadership.

This however does not make sense, and Barzani is known to be a politician with common sense. He must have decided to show Turkey that he remains an important player in the region, and that he will at least have a say in the Kurdish dimension of regional developments.

Whatever Barzani’s reasoning was, for Turkey to start demonizing Barzani by jumping to conclusions, led by emotions and prejudices rather than by healthy analysis has been a mistake on the part of governmental circles. There have been instances when even Turkey’s most trusted allies have let Ankara down.

This latest incident shows that there is still an important trust deficit between Ankara and Barzani, and that both sides need to take their own lessons and act accordingly if they decide to continue to remain on the same page.