Turkey and the US could step up cooperation in Iraq
The Middle East has increasingly become a region where there are issue-based alliances and issue-based confrontations between both state and non-state actors. That is one of the reasons why Turkey and the United States have come to the brink of a hot confrontation in Syria, despite their five-decade-long alliance.
Over Turkey’s strong opposition, the U.S. military has been cooperating with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) the Syrian wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK), in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
U.S. officials say this cooperation is tactical and limited, and will come to an end once ISIL is defeated. But this issue-based alliance with the PKK’s Syrian wing looks set to become broader and permanent - not so much to prevent a resurgence of ISIL or ISIL-like organizations, as Washington says, but more to counterbalance Russia and Iran’s increasing influence in the region.
While Turkey is disturbed by a “PKK axis” across its southeastern borders, the White House is disturbed by an “Iranian axis” stretching to Damascus via Baghdad and Beirut. While the “PKK axis” constitutes a more imminent and bigger threat for Turkey, the “Iranian axis” is not a lesser cause of concern for Ankara.
Yet it seems that Turkey fails to explain - or the U.S. fails to hear - that the two have room for cooperation in that respect. Perhaps Turkey’s ruling elites intentionally avoided giving the message that Washington and Ankara could join forces to counterbalance Iran and Russia. On the contrary, perhaps they tried to convey the message to Washington that the more the U.S. army relies on the Syrian wing of the PKK the more this will push Turkey toward Iran and Russia.
At any rate, Turkey and the U.S. have increasingly found themselves on opposite sides of the fence in the Syrian field. But the same is not valid for Iraq.
While the Americans have opted to cooperate in Syria with Kurdish organizations organically linked to the PKK, which is officially on the U.S.’s list of outlawed terrorist organizations, they have recently abandoned (for the time being at least) the Kurds of northern Iraq over their aspiration to form a Kurdish state. This comes after years of intense cooperation between the Americans and the Iraqi Kurds. Indeed, the Kurds’ enjoyment of a large degree of autonomy and welfare (until recently) in the north of the country is owed largely to American initiatives like “Operation Provide Comfort” in the early 1990s, which created a no-fly zone and effectively gave birth politically and geographically to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
While the U.S. government has recent given a cold shoulder to the KRG’s independence initiative it appears that Washington has also been engaged in intensified talks on how Turkish and U.S. security apparatuses can increase cooperation, especially on intelligence sharing against the PKK’s presence in Iraq.
The political environment seems to be ripe for an increased assault by Turkey against the PKK in northern Iraq, as Ankara has been enjoying good relations with the central government in Baghdad following the KRG’s failed referendum initiative. The KRG is struggling to raise its voice on such matters as it has weakened its position by pushing regional powers to join hands against it.
So it seems that Syria is not the only area where Turkey is looking for further U.S. action.