As the Iraqi situation takes a turn for the worse, the plight of the Turkmens of Iraq, whether they are Shiite or Sunni, is surpassing crisis dimensions and needs the urgent attention of Turkey.
This is a complicated situation. The Turkmens are scattered throughout the central and northern sectors of Iraq mostly around the Kirkuk and Mosul areas. They are now running away from the malice created by religious extremists called the Islamic State for Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), and there are reports that the number of Turkmen refugees has reached the 350,000s.
What is sad is that while Shiite Arab refugees, Sunni Arab refugees and Kurds can find safe heaven for themselves, the Turkmens of Iraq, be it Shiite or Sunni, are left on their own to face an uncertain future. Ankara has been using its good offices in Iraq to provide some relief for the Turkmens, but it is seriously insufficient.
Meanwhile, the process of the disintegration of Iraq is progressing. The rift between the Kurds and Baghdad is deepening. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused the Kurds of cooperating with the Sunni extremists and has gone as far as to say Masoud Barzani has given facilities to ISIS in Irbil. Maliki has said his forces will take back Kirkuk and the other disputed areas taken over by the Kurds after Iraqi army units fled these locations in view of ISIS attacks. Barzani has replied that they will never give up the disputed lands. There is talk that the Kurds are pulling their people out of Baghdad, including their ministers in the central government and their parliamentarians. The Kurds have also said they will take legal action against oil companies that are buying Iraqi oil, as the central government does not pay them the share of oil revenues that is earmarked in the Iraqi budget.
Meanwhile, the ISIS forces are continuing to make gains against Maliki's forces, while the political situation in Baghdad deteriorates with the parliament paralyzed after failure to convene repeated times. There are also divisions in the Shiite bloc as there are growing calls for a new government without Maliki. But time is running out for Iraq as fighting continues and a kind of meaningful resolution of the crisis seems distant.
Everything points to a gradual disintegration of Iraq. So amid this tragic picture there are urgent decisions to be made and steps to be taken by Ankara.
First, we have to decide what our position will be to the Kurds declaring an independent state in Irbil. Will we accept the Kurdish declaration and demand clarifications on the status of Kirkuk? What will be our conditions to accept Kurdish independence?
Secondly, we have to create and secure a safe haven even today for the Turkmens in Iraqi territory by putting pressure on the Kurds and the Arab Sunnis. We have the oil card as a strong leverage and our close ties with Barzani to make this work. Then of course we have to convince the Turkmens to move to this safe haven and create their own autonomous zone or maybe even a Turkmen state in Iraq. It is crucial that Ankara steps in and acts quickly.
Thirdly, we have to pay attention to the plight of the Turkmens in Syria and see that their interests are also served. It is true that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now busy with his presidential campaign, but he has to take time off for the Turkmens of Iraq. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is a man of strategy, should be able to contribute in this mission along with National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan.