Will the intel head become part of coalition talks?
The first Gulf War in 1991 introduced the concept of Northern Iraq to Turkish political jargon. For the two decades that followed the Gulf War, not a day went by without a Turkish official underlying the importance of Iraq’s territorial integrity and warning Iraqi Kurds against their aspiration for independence and even autonomy. Turkish officials avoided using the terms “Iraqi Kurdistan” or “Iraqi Kurds.” The successive Turkish governments experienced ups and downs in their relations with the “Kurdish entity” in Northern Iraq. The fact that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) used Northern Iraq as a safe haven led to several cross border operations, further complicating relations with Iraqi Kurds.
One of the best policy decisions of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was to improve relations with the Iraqi Kurds. In the mid-2000s, faced with intense PKK attacks, the AKP was forced by certain segments of the society to make military incursions into Northern Iraq.
With an important number of Kurdish deputies in its parliamentary group, the AKP resisted these calls and moved ahead to improve relations with what today we comfortably call the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Once a red line with the argument that it would take Kurds one more step towards independence, today’s Turkey waits impatiently for the KRG to be able to sell its gas and oil. The autonomous nature of the KRG is no longer an allergy to the Turkish state apparatus.
Currently, however we live with the Syrian Kurds, it looks like a déjà vu. “Whatever the cost; we will not let the creation of a state in the north of Syria [happen],” declared Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Once resisting calls to carry out a military operation in Northern Iraq, there is now news implying a desire on the part of the government to make a military incursion into Syria’s north. Why? No one knows exactly. Is it against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? That terrorist group has posed a much more serious, direct threat before, but the threat’s perception at that time did not lead to a cross border operation.
Yet the difference on the ground that has led to current debates stems from the fact that the Syrian Kurdish forces are gaining ground. Against who? Against Turkey? No, they are gaining ground against radical Islamist groups. When Syrian Kurds have the region bordering Turkey under control, this seems to be perceived as a bigger threat than ISIL or other Islamist groups.
First of all, when Turkey is on good terms with Iraqi Kurds and in the midst of a historic reconciliation process with its own ethnic Kurds, it looks rather contradictory to consider Syrian Kurds as the enemy.
Second, Turkey needs to reconcile with the reality on the ground and act according to the military threat perception, which dictates the biggest threat is the most imminent threat. ISIL is the most imminent, thus a bigger threat than Bashar al–Assad or Syrian Kurds.
Third, an incursion into Syria will not be approved by the international community. It is bound to create tension within NATO, since the alliance will question its commitment as a Syrian attack on Turkey could be seen as triggered by Turkish aggression.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the likely partner of the AKP in a coalition government, has rightly warned against such an operation. Syria will be one of the thorniest issues for the parties to agree on in coalition talks between these two parties.
Meanwhile, in addition to the division of ministries, the position of the head of intelligence might very well become part of negotiations. The CHP cannot get ahold of the Syrian policy by just having a hand in the Foreign Ministry, but it can with a hold on the National İntelligence Agency (MIT) in addition. Certain aspects of the Syrian policy are only known to the MİT.
After all, the CHP’s request to question Hakan Fidan’s position as head of MIT is legitimate, also from the ethics point of view.
Fidan revealed himself as an AKP affiliate when he resigned to become an AKP candidate for elections. The fact that [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu and Fidan had to back down because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan further strengthens the legitimacy for the CHP’s challenge on who will head the MIT.