Kurds benefit from Ankara-Baghdad spat

Kurds benefit from Ankara-Baghdad spat

It goes without saying, given the current chill between Ankara and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that Turkey will not extradite Iraqi vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to Iraq, despite the red notice issued for him by Interpol to face charges in Baghdad of allegedly forming Sunni death squads against leading Shiite figures.

The main reason is clearly the close links that al-Hashemi, a Sunni, has established with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration. It is on the basis of this that he has been welcomed in Turkey after fleeing arrest in Baghdad, following a brief sojourn in Northern Iraq.

Having supported the Sunni block in Iraq from the start, the AKP would clearly lose face among regional Sunni powers and masses if it were to comply with the Interpol bulletin, which it in fact has no legal obligation to follow. Ankara is obviously not inclined to do so anyway due to the growing solidarity between Sunni powers.

The Shiite al-Maliki government is no doubt also aware of this and is probably pleased about having placed Ankara in a difficult position by means of Interpol, the international police organization, which Ankara has also had to work closely with in other areas.

In recent years, al-Maliki has on various occasions accused Turkey of meddling in his country’s domestic affairs and of stirring sectarian differences in the region, which has been a main source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad.

While Ankara is putting on a brave face, it is nevertheless clear that this unexpected turn of events — Interpol’s involvement — is a major source of embarrassment for Turkey. The main beneficiary of all this, however, appears to be the Northern Iraqi Kurds, who already have serious problems with Baghdad, over how to share Iraq’s oil reserves.

They too have given refuge to al-Hashimi, which has merely added to the tension between them and the al-Maliki government. With the tension also growing between Ankara and Baghdad, the Kurds know that they will face less pressure from Turkey to desist from moving in a direction that could eventually bring them full independence, which is a long cherished dream of theirs.

Ankara has severed ties with Syria, and effectively the al-Maliki administration, and ties with Iran have cooled over the past year, due mainly, but not exclusively, to differences of opinion over Syria. Northern Iraq is the only place where Turkey has stable and growing relations on its eastern borders at the present time.

In this respect it was telling that Ankara should have hosted Masoud Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, not so long ago, affording him honors generally given to visiting heads of state.

These developing ties between Ankara and Erbil, the seat of the Regional Kurdish Government, obviously grate on al-Maliki’s nerves, while undoubtedly pleasing Iraqi Kurds who are clearly encouraged further to move in the direction of full independence.

That, of course, was an issue considered by Turkey until only a few years ago to be a red line not to be crossed under any circumstance. Ankara worries that an independent Kurdistan will also encourage Kurdish separatism in Turkey. It is also clear, however, that the Iraqi Kurds are facing historic opportunities presently which have not often come to them in the past.

Barzani clearly has no interest therefore in alienating Ankara by encouraging Kurdish separatism in Turkey, which is a country that he is increasingly dependent on economically. To put it another way, times have changed radically in the region forcing both Turks and the Iraqi Kurds to look on the matter from radically different perspectives.

How this will reflect on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting for an autonomous region in Turkey, is not clear. What is clear is that there is an increased chance that the PKK will get more help, under prevailing circumstances, from Bagdad and Damascus than the Kurds of Northern Iraq.