The worst-case Iraq scenario for Turkey

Published 05.07.2014 00:38

Since the status quo in Iraq has been severely undermined by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham's (ISIS) Mongolian-style attacks, it will never be the same as it used to be. This status quo, which is centered upon the Maliki government and supported by the U.S. and Iran, tries to exercise influence over Irbil, whose relations with Iraq are on thin ice, and excludes the Iraqi Sunni people from the political system.

From now on, Nouri al-Maliki cannot maintain his old power, and Irbil no longer wants to be under the heel of the Iraqi government. It is not possible to leave the Sunni Arabs out of politics. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), gave the first signals of a new formation in Iraq, saying that they will hold an independence referendum within a few months.

Ankara is closely following the goings-on in Iraq. Potential developments in the region are being analyzed by taking various scenarios into consideration. When the question "What is the worst-case Iraq scenario for you" is asked, the answer will likely be "a disintegrated Iraq." Contrary to what is believed, Ankara has not changed its stand on the territorial integrity of Iraq. Turkey's general opinion on the issue is that the territorial integrity of Iraq should be maintained under a federal structure. The best-case Iraq scenario for Ankara is one in which Maliki steps down from power, Sunnis are integrated into the system and the rights of Kurds and Turkmen are guaranteed by establishing a federal structure.

Why is Iraqi territorial integrity still being defended? The answer is quite simple: The change of national borders brings the already tragic situation into a deadlock. It is highlighted that the division of Iraq into two or three will not put Iraq in a better position. On the contrary, it will exacerbate regional chaos further. Diplomatic resources are preoccupied with the anxiety that if the division in Iraq is based on ethnic and sectarian lines, it may lead to new clashes that will be of particular concern for the entire region.

Well, what will be the reaction of Ankara if the KRG declares independence and subjugates Kirkuk by deploying Peshmerga troops there? Now, Turkey and the KRG Kurds are enjoying a golden era of bilateral relations. Due to the great importance of energy and security, a very strong network of relations has been established on a number of strategic issues. Ankara falls all over the rights of the Kurds and the Turkmen. There is a literal consensus and mutual trust between the two parties. The contributions of Barzani to the Kurdish reconciliation process and the extensive support of Ankara for the KRG against the ISIS threat are clear indicators of this collaboration. This consensus and mutual trust were affirmed when KRG Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani visited Ankara last week and held critical talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. When Hüseyin Çelik, vice president of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), took all these developments into consideration and said "If the Kurds declare independency, we will welcome it," this was interpreted as if Ankara's stance over the KRG has changed. However, the truth of the matter is totally different.

As I mentioned above, Ankara promotes the idea of the territorial integrity of Iraq in a federal structure. This was also overtly verbalized by the KRG authorities when they paid a visit to Turkey. Ankara gave two main messages to the KRG authorities. The first one is about recovering the territorial integrity of Iraq. Ankara finds the KRG's independence wrong, as it means the division of Iraq. It also means the emergence of new fields of conflict and the expansion of instability. The KRG's declaration of independence has the potential to negatively influence Turkey's domestic political balances. One of them is about the reconciliation process. As Turkey moves with firm steps in the reconciliation process, the KRG's declaration of independence will set a bad example for the PKK, which is on the verge of disarmament and has given up their demand for independence. Irbil's declaration of independence at such a critical time will instigate the reconciliation process, while it is running smoothly. The second one is about Irbil's collaboration with Iraq to provide the engagement of Iraqi Sunni people in politics once again.

There is unmitigated concord between Turkey and the KRG about the Sunni people's engagement in Iraqi politics. However, the KRG is really confused about independence. It wants independence; some argue that this is not possible at the moment because of regional conjunctures. Others say that it is meaningless to remain under Iraq after it has been jumbled by ISIS. There are also those who bring forward the idea of the independence referendum just like Barzani. The KRG says, "We will not declare independence without consulting Turkey," but we will see what the future will bring.

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