Turkey takes a harder line on Iraq after Syria

Turkey takes a harder line on Iraq after Syria

It is clear that Ankara waited for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to return from Italy before finalizing its decision as to whether or not to extradite Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, in response to a red notice from international police organization Interpol. Yesterday, on May 9, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said that Turkey will not extradite al-Hashemi, “someone whom we [Turkey] have supported since the very beginning.”

On May 8, when the Interpol issued a red notice on al-Hashemi, who is being tried in absentia in Baghdad on charges of terrorism and attempting to undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, officials in Ankara had said they believed al-Hashemi was likely to return to his country as soon as his medical treatment was completed. Al-Hashemi has been staying in Turkey for a while, under the protection of Turkish security units.

Bozdağ yesterday mentioned the health excuse as well, but not as the major issue. He drew another file from his cabinet. “It is of course important that al-Hashemi has been named as wanted by Interpol,” Bozdağ said, “But we also have made demands of the Iraqi government. The terrorist organization and its supporters are there, and we also want them extradited, but so far we have been unable to get a positive response from the Iraqi government.”

What Bozdağ was referring to is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) bases in northern Iraq near the Turkish border, a region the PKK has been using as a base for nearly three decades to support its military campaign in Turkey. But the camps are in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), under the presidency of Masoud Barzani. Barzani does not have full authority over the PKK either. Following statements by KRG officials about the quality of life in their regional capital, Arbil, which is soon to host a Kurdish conference, bombs started to go off in the town, supposedly set by the PKK in order to sabotage the conference if it will exclude them. And when al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, started his run from the Shiite al-Maliki, he went to Barzani first, and was protected by the KRG for weeks, in defiance of threats from Baghdad.

Neither al-Maliki nor Barzani have full authority over the PKK, and even if they wanted to give away this major trump in their hands to Turkey, it is likely that they would not be able to do so: The PKK has its own armed capabilities.

So Turkey’s new positioning is clearly a challenge to the al-Maliki government in Baghdad, and a move to boost the morale of the pseudo-anti-al-Maliki front, which called on him last week to fulfill his constitutional promises if he wants to keep the country in one piece.

It is no secret that al-Maliki’s is the only government in the region other than Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s in Iran that still supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and it is no secret that they form an axis of non-Sunni governments in the region. It could be said that Turkey is toughening its stance regarding the two governments of its southern neighbors, Iraq and Syria, which are currently in line with Iran, as the talks on Iran’s nuclear program, planned for Baghdad on May 23, get closer.

To complete the picture, the massive military exercise about to be hosted by Jordan together with the U.S. near Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq must be mentioned. It is reportedly based on a scenario of regional challenges and its name is “Eager Lion”; no connection is mentioned but “assad” means “lion” in Arabic.