Turkish-US relations after Iraq

Turkish-US relations after Iraq

As Turkish President Abdullah Gül was warning the U.S. defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Ankara on Dec. 16 on the future of Iraq if the “trouble of terrorism” could not be taken under control, prestigious “Global Relations Forum” was releasing a “Turkey-U.S. Partnership” report in Istanbul.

Releasing the report, Füsun Türkmen of Galatasaray University, as the co-chair of the Forum, underlined that all crises between the U.S. and Turkey so far have not been about issues relating the two countries, but because of “third parties.”

Gül was also mentioning to Panetta exactly that. Panetta had lowered the U.S. flag the day before in Baghdad, officially ending his country’s occupation there since 2003. Turkey has worries that after U.S. withdrawal the security situation in Iraq will further deteriorate due to a power vacuum which could infect the neighborhood. It is not only the military bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Iraq as Gül was implying, but Iran is likely to try to take advantage of the situation in order to exercise its influence over the Shiite majority in the country concentrated in the south.

Gül has reportedly warned Panetta about possible negative effects of a Congress bill on the Armenian genocide allegations regarding the 1915 killings in the Ottoman Empire, during the First World War; that is another “third party” situation.

The “third party” analogy is used by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well in a letter to the French President Nicholas Sarkozy, shared with media by Prime Minister’s office on Dec. 16. It is about a bill presented to the French Parliament to pass a law that bars one from saying the 1915 killings was not a genocide and punishing such an utterance by imprisonment and fine.

Last time, after being approved in the French Parliament, the Senate refused to vote and dropped it from the agenda on the grounds it would be against the basic principles upon which France was built, like the freedom of speech; and Sarkozy had remained silent despite his promises to the French-Armenian voters during his election campaign. 

This time it could be different, since there is a fierce competition between the parties for the 2012 elections in France. Erdoğan is asking Sarkozy in the letter to keep his 2006 promise to him on the issue; it might have “grave consequences” he adds. Will a close cooperation on Syria be the victim of the Armenian bill? We’ll see.

But the uncertainties in Iraq in parallel to Turkish concerns will definitely increase with the worsening of the Turkish-U.S. relations. Turkey who wants to be a part of European Union, but pushed back by a number of countries led by France, found itself as an example for the transforming Muslim populated Middle Eastern and North African countries in the first year of the Arab Spring. A series of antagonism with Israel consolidated that position. All those factors pushed Turkey and the center of gravity of Turkish-American relations away from Europe towards the East.

Erdoğan and Gül as the rulers of the country have to decide whether that is really for the benefit of Turkish people and accordingly fine tune the alliance relations, especially with the U.S.