The unanticipated fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a terrorist organization that has long been a prominent player in the Syrian civil war, earlier this month added to concerns over Turkey's national security and the stability of the broader Middle East. An ISIS raid on the Turkish consulate in Mosul, which resulted in the abduction of 49 diplomatic officers and other Turkish nationals, hit Turks close to home and turned a growing regional concern into a domestic affair that brought the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's foreign policy under scrutiny. Over the past weeks, we witnessed a rekindled interest in allegations that the government, through the proxy of the National Intelligence Oganization (MIT) and in cooperation with the U.S. government, had provided heavy weaponry - including, the conspiracy theory goes, chemical weapons - to jihadist militants fighting among the Syrian opposition ranks.
The pressing issue of securing Turkey's southern border through proper enforcement notwithstanding, the Turkish government's investment in developing relations with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities, for which opposition parties accused Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of placing Turkey's territorial integrity at risk by facilitating an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, might start paying dividends over the short term.
In the wake of the most recent developments in Iraq, it became an indisputable fact that the Iraqi army, nothing short of a hot mess, was largely unable (and possibly unwilling) to defend the country against what was a relatively small militia force launching a campaign against Mosul, a major urban center just 250 miles away from the Iraqi capital. If there was any doubt, the event attested to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's apparent incapability of governing a nation divided along ethnic and sectarian lines. Just two weeks into the crisis, three possible roadmaps have emerged in Iraq.
The first (and still most credible) scenario would involve the Iraqi authorities, with help from the U.S. and other governments, successfully cracking down on the ISIS militants and restoring the status quo ante bellum. Judging from the growing number of U.S. officials frustrated with al-Maliki's failed policies, Baghdad will have to open channels for Sunni Muslims and the Kurdish community to participate in the political process, which has thus far been dominated by the Shiites. Provided that greater Kurdish influence in Baghdad would alleviate the strife between the central government and the KRG authorities, the roadmap might prove beneficial for Turkey, whose primary interests in Iraq rest with the Kurds.
Keeping in mind that the Obama administration does not exactly have a reputation for boots-on-the-ground strategies and rapid decision- making, there is still a chance that the ISIS militants will continue to haunt Baghdad and its vicinity for the foreseeable future, especially since the terrorist organization reportedly improves relations with local tribes each passing day. Short of becoming independent, the KRG authorities could still attain greater autonomy within Iraq, especially with regard to the export of natural gas and crude oil through its own pipelines with no central government to file lawsuits and threaten foreign companies with blacklisting.
The third and practically most challenging scenario would mean a continuation of ISIS violence in Iraq, which will rapidly turn into a failed state (unless we are already there, in which case just ignore this part) and give birth to a new sovereign nation across Turkey's (former) border with Iraq that would serve as a buffer zone between an insurgency-ridden hotbed of terrorism and millions of Turkish citizens.
To be clear, statements from Turkish officials would suggest that the country still keeps its distance from setting in motion a series of developments in the Middle East that would shift national borders and keep the sectarian fire burning. Considering that Israel reportedly received its first shipment of Kurdish oil despite repeated warnings from U.S. authorities against by-passing the Iraqi central government, the Kurds and, by extension, Turkey have already won the first round in what looks like a long fight over the future of the Middle East.