A different Barzani trip

A different Barzani trip

Nothing is permanent. Conditions change, people change, countries change, perceptions change. Masoud Barzani, the President of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, was once considered in Ankara not much more than a “boot licker,” a dangerous and unreliable “feudal lord.”

Well, in those years Turkey was very much concerned about the possibility of the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. On the one hand, Barzani was acting in full ignorance of the Kurdish sensitivity of Turkey. Besides, out of fear of the disintegration of its neighbor, Ankara was trying to help consolidate the central government of Iraq, while Barzani and the Kurdish autonomous administration was trying to reap the benefits of their support to the Americans in the Iraq war.

Those were the times when Barzani’s peshmarga were helping out American troops in that notorious July 4, 2003 hood incident at Suleymaniyah. As much as the hood placed on the heads of Turkish soldiers, who placed it and who collaborated in it were of course humiliating and hurtful details even today for most Turks. In a way, the hood event appears to have not yet ended.

At those times it was only a dream for Barzani to come to Ankara and meet with the Turkish leaders, although he was getting some kind of “head of state” treatment from his “wartime ally” United States. The maximum he could get in Ankara was to be hosted by intelligence officers and a short and discreet meeting with the Prime Minister. During those years he was scolded and downgraded permanently because of Ankara’s anger that he was not doing enough in the fight against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gang. If he did not have the backing of Uncle Sam, Ankara would know better what to do with him, but there was a limit.

Times changed, conditions changed, perceptions changed and one day the same Barzani was given in Turkey the full red-carpet treatment, as if he was visiting Washington. The “boot licker” of yesterday became a very respectable statesman who was received in full pomp by the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, while this time the Prime Minister of the Baghdad government was publicly branding Turkey as a “hostile state” with a sectarian agenda. Such developments a few years ago would have been utterly unthinkable.

The Muslim brotherhood and solidarity concept of the ruling AKP obviously has some fatal sectarian restrictions. In Saddam’s Iraq, although Sunnis constituted a far smaller percentage than the Shiites, the Baathist regime was overwhelmingly dominated by the Sunnis. All setups have changed since then and many heads have rolled down the annals of history, including that of Saddam. The new and Shiite-dominated political setup in Baghdad has started to become, according to opponents, a Shiite version of the previous oppressive regime. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now has full control of the intelligence network as well the new military and bureaucracy. Besides, he enjoys full support of next-door Iran.
Now, Ankara needs a new ally. Could there be a better candidate than Barzani? Sure, but there is the PKK problem. Well, he apparently understood the price of the red carpet.