Turkey’s foreign policy choices may speed up division of Iraq

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) poor and miscalculated foreign policy choices have assisted the rise of the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region, dragging Iraq into divisive conflicts and strengthening the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) aspirations of independence, according to analysts who spoke to daily Today’s Zaman.

From Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul, 49 people, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, diplomatic staff, dependents and members of the special forces have been hostages of radical ISIL militants for about a month now with no news with regard to their release. The Turkish government’s gag order on reporting about the situation — with the excuse of protecting the lives of the hostages – is preventing the subject from being publicly discussed.

Emboldening their position in the region as a military power against ISIL in the eyes of the West, the KRG has started voicing their dream of independence. KRG President Massoud Barzani has even claimed that Turkey will not block an independent Kurdish state in the region. For Turkey, an independent Kurdish state has long been considered “a line that should not be crossed.”

“I do not expect to receive active assistance or resistance [from Turkey with regard to an independent Kurdish state],” Barzani told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper on Monday. Ten days ago Barzani called for a referendum on independence and asked the Kurdish parliament in Arbil to work on a date for this.

Turkey buys KRG oil

Turkey has been buying oil from the KRG directly, bypassing the Baghdad central government for some time, despite the strong warnings against this “oil brotherhood” from Baghdad. Washington is also not happy with this deal between Ankara and Arbil with the concern that such a deal would support the division of Iraq while putting Kurds in a stronger position with the oil revenue. US President Barack Obama is against the division of Iraq and the emergence of an independent Kurdish state.

The Turkish government has been at odds with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for some time. In November of last year, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told journalists in Ankara that Maliki is responsible for not distributing the oil revenue equally between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and not sharing the power in a balanced way. Shiite Maliki, according to Turkish officials, has been fighting against Sunnis and Kurds, causing many people to die as a result of policies supporting sectarian division. The official said that Turkey wants to be in a relationship with all of Iraq and emphasized the sensitivity toward protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity.

But he also said that Turkey let the KRG know that if they bring oil to the Turkish border, Turkey would buy it, and the discussion in Iraq about how to share the oil revenue between the central government and the Kurds has nothing to do with Turkey, but is a matter that Iraqis would decide among themselves.

“The AK Party is following a policy that supports the division of Iraq,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Faruk Loğoğlu told Sunday’s Zaman on Thursday. Explaining that there are two reasons for it, Loğoğlu said that AK Party does not like Shiites, as 99 percent Muslim Turkey mostly consists of Sunnis. Secondly, Loğoğlu added, the AK Party says Turkey needs KRG oil to meet its energy deficit, saying that no one should oppose the flow of Kurdish oil to Turkey. “This careless approach shows that they are not interested in what the consequences of receiving northern Iraqi oil will be,” he said.

“AK Party policies help only to speed up Iraq’s division by establishing close relationships with ISIL, snubbing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and buying KRG oil and trying to sell it to third parties despite international law and warnings from Baghdad’s central government,” Loğoğlu stressed.

He also warned those who support the division of Iraq, saying that it would cause a great deal of bloodshed which will involve Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites and possibly Iran. “It is not going to be a velvet revolution, as in the case of the Czechs and Slovaks. All the parties in Iraq will be fighting with each other,” he added.

Barzani has also called for a referendum in Kirkuk to determine the future of the oil-rich city, which Iraqi Kurds regard as the historic capital of an independent Kurdish state. Kirkuk is home to ethnic Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. Turkey has advocated that Kirkuk be given special status in which all of its segments are represented in a fair and balanced manner within the unity of Iraq.

Following the capture of Mosul on June 10 Mehmet Akif Okur, an expert on the Middle East at the Ankara Strategy Institute told Sunday’s Zaman that the reports in the Turkish press suggesting that the advancement of ISIL would bring many actors in the region together, including Turks and the KRG — and even the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the PKK — does not make sense. “If Turkey doesn’t consider the expansion of Arbil’s power as a threat to itself, then ISIL may bring Turks and Kurds closer,” he said.

Criticizing Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s remarks expressing hope that the different groups of Iraq will one day be able to live together, Loğoğlu a former diplomat said, “You can’t follow a foreign policy of hope. You need to formulate foreign policy; hope has no place in it.”

Remarking that the CHP gives the utmost importance to protection of the territorial integrity of Turkey’s neighbors, Loğoğlu suggested that the AK Party government with its policies “enables, encourages and helps” the division of Iraq.

“In the past, an independent Kurdish state was a reason for war [for Turkey] but no one has the right to say that now,” ruling AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik told the Financial Times at the end of June. “If Iraq is divided — and it is inevitable — [the KRG] will be our brothers…Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq is not good and it looks like it is going to be divided,” Çelik said. His comments have been interpreted as suggesting that Ankara would not oppose an independent Kurdish state if Iraq were to be divided.

Later Çelik said his remarks to the Financial Times did not mean that Ankara is signallng that it would recognize an independent Kurdish state. Çelik said the newspaper report only reflects the Financial Times’ interpretation and that Turkey supports the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Çelik clarified that it is very important for Turkey that the unity of Iraq be maintained, in addition to the safety and peace of the Iraqi people. “That is our priority and we are exerting all of our efforts in that direction,” he added.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for African and Middle Eastern Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian claimed on Monday that the division of Iraq is an Israeli plan that Iran will never allow to happen. Abdollahian also said that Tehran and Ankara are on the same page strategically with regard to an independent Kurdish state in the region.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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