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Turkey’s Iraq Policy: Problematic Policies Have Produced Problematic Outcomes

Turkey’s Iraq Policy: Problematic Policies Have Produced Problematic Outcomes

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This policy brief argues that it is imperative that both Turkey and the West reconsider the state of their relationship in light of ISIS' victories.
This policy brief argues that it is imperative that both Turkey and the West reconsider the state of their relationship in light of ISIS' victories.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jul 11, 2014
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Summary:
The Turkish government was taken by surprise by ISIS’ victories. Ankara had no sympathy for the sectarian politics of Maliki government, but it had little appreciation of how weak it was in the face of ISIS. The unpleasant outcomes of ISIS’ success became evident quickly. The success ISIS has enjoyed
rst in Syria and then in Iraq, and
the slow and incoherent Allied reaction, raises the possibility of the emergence of a political entity in Iraq that tries to export its ideology to Turkey and recruit militants. Second, ISIS has invaded provinces where major Turkmen communities reside, causing popular indignation among the Turkish public. Third, any concerted action against ISIS may force Turkey to answer
the difcult question of how it is
to cope with the Syrian Kurdish challenge. Fourth, because of the alleged divergence between the words and deeds of the Turkish government, its credibility has been undermined. It is imperative that both Turkey and other members of the Western Alliance reconsider the state of their relationship, trying to repair the erosion of the sense of community.
Analysis
 Turkey’s Iraq Policy: Problematic Policies Have Produced Problematic Outcomes
by İlter Turan
July 11, 2014
W󰁡󰁳󰁨󰁩󰁮󰁧󰁴󰁯󰁮, DC • B󰁥󰁲󰁬󰁩󰁮 • P󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁳 B󰁲󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁥󰁬󰁳 • B󰁥󰁬󰁧󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁥 •
 
A󰁮󰁫󰁡󰁲󰁡 B󰁵󰁣󰁨󰁡󰁲󰁥󰁳󰁴 • W󰁡󰁲󰁳󰁡󰁷
 
OFFICES
Analysis
Introduction
Te victories in Iraq o the fighters o the Islamic State o Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an entity ounded in Iraq to fight against the U.S. orces but recently operating mainly in Syria against the government o Bashir al-Assad, has produced a new condi-tion in the
 Mashrek
, which no regional or global actor can ignore. ISIS orces, a combination o indigenous Sunni radicals and Jihadist recruits rom over the world, have succeeded in taking over several Iraqi cities, most notably Mosul, thereby establishing control over a territory that runs north-south, and driving a radical Sunni wedge between Syria and Iraq. Iraqi troops have proven to be incapable o arresting the onslaught. Te govern-ment o Nouri al-Maliki, in despera-tion, has asked the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to help counter the emergency. While the Kurdish
Peshmerga
have had some success in halting ISIS advances toward Kirkuk, the government o Nechirvan Barzani has achieved control over the province, a coveted goal it had not been able to realize because o Arab and urkmen claims.Te urkish government was also taken by surprise by ISIS’ victories. Ankara had no sympathy or the sectarian politics o Maliki govern-ment, but it had little appreciation o how weak it was in the ace o ISIS, which moved quickly and took over large chunks o territory. Te unpleasant outcomes o ISIS’ success became evident quickly as radical irregulars took dozens o urkish truck drivers hostage, probably or ransom, disrupting urkish exports to Iraq and putting the urkish govern-ment in an embarrassing position o having to find ways to liberate its citizens rom captivity.
1
 Ten came the most severe blow: ISIS orces surrounded the urkish Consulate in Mosul (apparently the only diplomatic mission in town) and took everyone, rom the security guards to the consul general and their amilies, including an eight-month-old baby, hostage. Te embarrassment was conounded by the inormation that the Foreign Ministry had been alerted to the pending danger, but misjudging the conditions, had ordered all to stay. As a result, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was orced to direct staff to surrender when the consulate was surrounded and threatened with destruction. At the time o this writing, the hostages
1 They have recently been released, but the conditions of the release are not known.
 
Analysis
2
 
Analysis
had not yet been released; the government in Ankara had managed to get a judge to order a news blackout on the matter, ostensibly to protect the captives.
Turkey and Iraq: The Changing Relationship
Ever since the ounding o the second Maliki government in December 2010, almost a year afer the Iraqi national elections, urkey-Iraq relations have been problematic. Te urkish government made no secret o its dislike o Maliki’s perormance as prime minister, finding him to be strongly sectarian, excluding all but Shia Arabs rom the govern-ment. Benefiting rom the inconclusive nature o the 2010 elections, urkey actively promoted the establishment o a government by Iyad Allawi, also a Shia politician but with a more secular bent, but this ailed. Later, it hosted an Iraqi  vice premier, arik al-Hashimi, whom the Maliki govern-ment had condemned to death, and provided him with opportunities or propagation o his anti-Maliki govern-ment views. Te return o Maliki to power in this April has meant the continuation o these problematic relations. It is in this context that urkey, without waiting or Baghdad and the KRG to reach an agreement, allowed the shipment o oil rom northern Iraq to Ceyhan in urkey to be loaded to tankers and sold to unspecified buyers. urkish policy toward Iraq has changed over time rom avoring Baghdad to avoring Erbil. Initially, urkey seemed to attach high priority to the maintenance o Iraq’s territo-rial integrity. Aware o the desire o the KRG or ever higher levels o autonomy possibly culminating in independence — an outcome that it saw as presenting a challenge or its mainly Kurdish-populated contiguous provinces where a separatist organization, the PKK, was operating — urkey avored Baghdad as it had always done in the past. Further-more, sensitive about Kirkuk’s urkmen past, urkish leaders, along with Baghdad, were unreceptive to Kurdish claims that the province is in the Kurdish heartland and now had a Kurdish majority.Te initial premiership o Maliki, however, proved to be disillusioning. He set out to establish exclusive Shia dominance in politics and displayed cruelty toward Sunni dissent. He ignored criticism and ailed to mend his ways, a characteristic he has continued to this day. Under these circumstances, urkish policy began to shif and became highly critical o the Baghdad government. In the mean-time, the urkish government had changed its policies regarding its own Kurdish population, now acknowledging that there were ethnic and cultural differences that had to be accommodated within the ramework o national unity. Under this new approach, the KRG was no longer seen as a threat that would instigate local Kurdish population to act against the urkish state, but rather as a riendly power with whom cooperation would be possible to prevent difficulties that might emerge in Southeastern urkey. Te positive atmosphere that gradually emerged afer the shif in urkey’s policy in avor o the KRG was buttressed by the expansion o economic relations. Many urkish busi-nesses opened branches in Erbil, while urkish Airlines and others initiated flights between major urkey’s cities and the KRG capital. urkey became a popular tourist destina-tion or Iraqi Kurds while cultural contacts multiplied. Te change was epitomized in a concert in Diyarbakir, urkey, where Shiwan Parvar, a Kurdish singer born in urkey but in exile in Erbil sang Kurdish songs with İbrahim atlıses, a urkish singer o partly Kurdish origin; Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan offered complimentary remarks to both singers aferwards.
The Syrian Connection
urkey’s relations with Syria influence urkey’s relations with Iraq in two major ways. o begin with, the continu-ation o an Iran-backed Assad regime and an Iraq allied with Syria and avorably disposed toward Iran presents a challenge not only to urkey’s security but also its aspira-tions to be the regional leader. As is known, urkey has implemented intensiying efforts to bring Assad down, however it has not only ailed but has also become isolated
The positive atmosphere that gradually emerged after the shift in Turkey’s policy in favor of the KRG was buttressed by the expansion of economic relations.
 
Analysis
3
 
Analysis
because o insisting on such a policy. Some observers have suggested that urkey began to extend support to radical Islamist movements including possibly ISIS when it became clear that the moderate Syrian opposition was ragmented, ineffective and incapable o bringing Assad regime to an end. Te truth o such allegations is difficult to establish but some circumstantial evidence may be offered. First, many o the radical fighters appear to have flown to urkey, beore crossing into Syria. Until recently, urkish authori-ties have been lax in monitoring this traffic. Second, there is evidence that radical elements entered urkey rom Syria, at a minimum or medical treatment and possibly or relie breaks. Tird, newspaper accounts show that radical movements were actively engaged in recruiting among the urkish youth, which should (could!) not have escaped the attention o local authorities. Fourth, the government’s unusually harsh reaction to the stopping o trucks destined or Syria, by law enorcement authorities who had received a tip off that the cargo might contain more than humani-tarian aid raises suspicions o some sort o a cover up. In conclusion, by ailing to exercise enough care, urkey may have been inadvertently too accommodating to radical movements, contributing to the emergence o a environ-ment that has enabled ISIS to enjoy success in Iraq.Te close relations o both Syria and Iraq with Iran, as already indicated, gave birth to the possibility o an Iran-led Shia bloc projecting power all the way to the Mediter-ranean, a scenario that neither urkey nor its allies in the Atlantic Community would find acceptable. Tat Russia might also establish links with this bloc serves only to inten-siy such concerns. Preventing such outcomes depended on bringing about change in Syria, a need urkey may have appreciated somewhat better than its allies, leading it to turn to less orthodox measures to achieve security.
Conundrum Variations
Te developments in Iraq have conronted urkey with a number o conundrums. First, the success ISIS has enjoyed first in Syria and then in Iraq, and the slow and incoherent Allied reaction, raises the possibility o the emergence o a political entity in Iraq that tries to export its ideology to urkey, recruit militants, raise money, and develop effective political movements. Tis is extremely problematic or Iraq, whose stability already appears ragile in the ace o growing political polarization along secular-religious lines. While ISIS may undermine the Iranian projection o power toward the Mediterranean, its own presence may be equally desta-bilizing both or the region and urkey.Second, ISIS has invaded provinces where major urkmen communities reside, causing popular indignation among the urkish public. More worrying, however, is the possi-bility o a wave o urkmen migration into urkey at a time when more than 1 million Syrian reugees, and more coming, already present Ankara with a daunting challenge.Tird, while its policy toward the KRG has evolved in a positive direction, urkey has been adamantly opposed to aspirations o autonomy o Syrian Kurds. In the Kurdish majority sections o Syria, an ideological relative o the PKK prevails. Islamic radicals constituted a check on Kurdish assertiveness, a actor that may partially explain urkey’s relaxed approach toward them. Any concerted action against ISIS may orce urkey to answer the difficult ques-tion o how it is to cope with the Syrian Kurdish challenge. Fourth, throughout this ordeal, because o the alleged divergence between the words and deeds o the urkish government, its credibility has been undermined. While all allies recognize the importance o working with urkey to cope with the emergency, it appears that it is the necessity o cooperation rather than the spirit o belonging to the same security community that drives the relationship.
A Time for All to Reconsider
In the business world, it is ofen argued that crises are also opportunities to review perormance and bring about changes that seem difficult to affect under ordinary circum-stances. Te current situation in Iraq may serve to remind all members o the Atlantic Community how important
The close relations of both Syria and Iraq with Iran gave birth to the possibility of an Iran-led Shia bloc projecting power all the way to the Mediterranean.

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