Ankara between Baghdad and Arbil
In the bigger picture, there is the NATO Summit in Chicago. Iran and Syria are among the subjects to be discussed by the Western alliance in the framework of a new strategic concept called “smart defense,” which is mainly about playing the global gendarme under budget circumstances hit by the economic crisis. And there is also the issue of withdrawing from Afghanistan, which has two important neighbors, Iran and Pakistan.
Following the decision to let NATO supply route access Afghanistan again, Pakistan was also invited to the Afghanistan part of the NATO talks.
Iran was a major issue at the G-8 meeting in Camp David prior to the NATO summit on May 20. Other topics were another nuclear-related country, North Korea, as well as Afghanistan and Greece; it is unfortunate that the economic crisis in Greece was considered by the G-8 as destabilizing a factor as the other three. U.S. President Barack Obama, the host, reportedly mentioned Syria to his colleagues – including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and said President Bashar al-Assad had to go.
Turkey is in the middle of the picture. Russia – which is not happy because of the NATO Missile Shield radar there – is the northern neighbor. In the west there is Greece, in the east, Iran, and in the south, there are Syria and Iraq.
It should be noted that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flew to Islamabad on May 20 to talk to his host Yousuf Raza Gilani on matters including the future of Afghanistan; Turkey has already hinted that its military presence in Afghanistan could stay even beyond NATO’s departure, which will start in 2014.
The escalation of tension between Iraq and Turkey has such an international background; on the regional level there is the Kurdish problem.
Similar to the Syrian case, the Turkish and Iraqi governments used to have joint Cabinet meetings up until a year ago; Ankara used to promote the fact as evidence of its “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
On May 19, demonstrators gathered in front of Turkey’s consulate in Basra, protesting Turkey’s involvement in Iraqi affairs in the form of hosting Iraq’s Sunni-origin vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who is on trial in absentia. Turkey strongly condemned Iraq for allowing the Turkish flag to be burned by the demonstrators. Basra is a stronghold of the Shiite population, who back Shiite-origin Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Yesterday, meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız was in Arbil, the center of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq with a group of Turkish investors.
And as Erdoğan was hitting hard on the recent attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the presence of their military bases in Iraq, the governor’s office in the heavily Kurdish populated Şırnak province issued a statement about formalities for Turkish trucks entering Iraq through the KRG – the office used the word “Kurdistan” in a written official document for the time. That could be a sign of new developments in Turkey’s policies regarding Iraq and the Kurdish problem as well.
It looks as if this part of the world will have another series of transformations as the U.S. presidential elections in November gets closer.