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“During Saddam, Turkey wouldn’t dare do that.” Mam Rostam Hamid, watching Kurdistan TV report of Turkish aerial bombing of Iraqi Kurdish village in Qandil Mountains (Interview 2007).
“Our problems are many, but we don’t want to use our guns. We want to use our pens. But if everything else fails, we have our guns.” Ali Mahdi Sadek, Turkmen provincial council member and Iraqi Turkmen Front official (Hashim 2006).
“Self-inflicted damage is something the Turks are capable of.” Anonymous Western diplomat (International Crisis Group 2005).
0844007 Valley of the Wolves Iraq, a 2006 political fantasia set in northern Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, is the most expensive Turkish movie ever made. Gary Busey, an eccentric Hollywood actor known for philosophical-sounding non-sequiturs, appears in the movie as a Jewish-American doctor who harvests organs from Iraqi detainees at a prison called Abu Ghraib and packs them in coolers addressed to New York, London and Tel Aviv (Akar 2006). Western viewers who interpreted the movie simply as an anti-American, anti-Semitic riposte to America’s recent catastrophic interventions in the Middle East missed a subtler criticism and perhaps the movie’s prime intent: to vanquish the ghosts of what is known in Turkey as “The Hood Incident.” On 4 July 2003 American soldiers arrested 11 Turkish military officers in Sulaimaniyah on suspicion that they were Iraqi insurgents and placed black hoods over their heads. Valley of the Wolves Iraq begins with a fictional arrestee committing suicide while a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk hangs on a wall in the background. He addressed his suicide note to a character named Polat Alemdar, who reappears here after infiltrating the Turkish Mafia in the television series that launched the Valley of the Wolves franchise. Alemdar swears revenge and drives a dark Mercedes saloon car across the Turkey-Iraq border before swiftly dispatching a group of Kurdish Peshmerga – wearing the traditional red and white kaffiya of the Barzani clan - at a highway checkpoint. Later Alemdar meets the fictional perpetrator of the hood incident: Sam William Marshall, a CIA agent who calls himself a “peacekeeper from God.” Alemdar threatens to explode a hotel unless the American takes off his white fedora and dons a hood himself. The movie puts a fictional gloss on actual and alleged events since the invasion. It references a 2004 American attack on an Iraqi wedding party near the Syrian border; infamous scenes from Abu Ghraib; the toppling of Saddam Hussein statues, and suicide bombs. It is violent. Alemdar shares an exchange with a Turkmen muezzin who is soon after killed when an American soldier fires a rocket into the muezzin’s minaret as he gives the call to prayer. “When the
0844007 Turkmen are gone, the Arabs are next,” Marshall says. Valley of the Wolves Iraq broke domestic box office records (Vick 2006) and garnered attention from national leaders. Turkish Speaker Bulent Arinc called the film “a cinematic masterpiece” (Kayaoglu 2006). Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas got more to the point: “The scenario [screenplay] is great…. A soldier’s honor must never be damaged” (Associated Press 2006). It is as if the Mosul Dispute had never been resolved.
The hood incident occurred just months after Turkish Parliament voted to deny Coalition forces the use of Turkish soil for a second front in Iraq and further damaged Turkey-US relations even though the incident received scant press coverage in the West (Baran 2006; Birch 2003; International Crisis Group (ICG) 2005). It also helps to explain why in Turkey, a NATO member and EU-aspirant, only 9% of the population has a favourable impression of the United States according to a 2007 Pew poll, the lowest among 47 countries surveyed (Pew 2007). One Turkish analyst noted that the movie’s significance can be overstated: “Would you prefer that Turks burn American flags in the streets, as in the 1970s?” (Ozel 2006). More interestingly, the film takes place not in Sulaimaniyah like the hood incident but in an unnamed city populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen - a city like Kirkuk, in other words, where the soldiers arrested in the hood incident intended to assassinate the Kurdish governor, according to Kurdish intelligence (Kirisci 2004). They were not alone. In 2004, plainclothes Turkish officers were detained in northern Iraq while pretending to belong to a humanitarian convoy and found to be carrying a small arsenal in the trunk of their car (Ware 2004). In 2005 the ICG estimated that 1500-3000 Turkish agents were working in northern Iraq (ICG, ibid, p. 11). Some press reports from the early post-invasion period speculated that Turkey wanted to destabilize northern Iraq so that it could send peacekeepers, establish a larger military presence (Ware, ibid), and pursue the related goals of undermining Iraqi
0844007 Kurdish autonomy, preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity, and crushing the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Indeed, the ghosts of Mosul are alive. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel stated in the mid1990s that Turkey and Iraq’s border "is not Turkey's national border" (Pipes 2007). “The Mosul Province was within the Ottoman Empire’s territory. Had that place been a part of Turkey, none of the problems we are confronted with at the present time would have existed,” Demirel said (Pipes, ibid). Demirel spoke on the eve of Operation Steel (1995) in which the Turkish military sent 35,000 soldiers into northern Iraq in search of PKK rebels, having been granted “hot pursuit” rights in the 1983 Frontier Security and Cooperation Agreement between Ankara and Baghdad (Ferhadi 1995; ICG 2008, p. 1). The first section of this paper examines the Turkish position after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, including Turkey’s insistence on retaining Mosul Vilayet as explained in the National Pact of 1920. The second section examines the British and Iraqi side of the equation and focuses primarily on British efforts to delimit and demarcate a “natural” border to maximize Iraq’s defensive value, before Turkey and Iraq ratified the Brussels line in 1926. The third section examines Turkey’s stance toward the Iraqi Kurdish region in more recent years. Its last major incursion into Iraqi territory took place in 2007 following a tense national election which saw Islamic moderates defeat secularists and nationalists at the polls while the powerful Turkish military bristled. Turkey has no legal territorial claim to northern Iraq; in fact, it has dropped objections to Iraqi federalism. Turkey has however attempted to shape Iraqi federalism, partly by adopting the Turkmen cause as a counterweight to Iraqi Kurdish power and providing the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) with guns and money in case inter-communal violence breaks out in the north. This paper thus moves from the resolution of the Mosul Dispute to an examination of the long-term consequences of that resolution from the Turkish perspective.
0844007 Few events in the creation story of the Turkish Republic carry the real and symbolic importance of Mustafa Kemal’s Anatolian hajira. In 1919, the future president abandoned his assignment to oversee the demobilization of the Ottoman Ninth Army and organised an armed revolt of among the army and peasantry instead. The Turkish War of Independence rendered the Treaty of Sevres a dead letter (Fig. 1). But this did not happen overnight.
Figure 1: Partitioning of Anatolia by the Treaty of Sevres, 1920 (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wavered over what sort of territorial concessions to impose on the Ottomans after the Armistice of Mudros, writing in early 1919 that “the Allies had no more right to split up Turkey than Germany, in former days, had to had to split up Poland” (Fromkin 1989, p. 427). The Treaty of Sevres (1920) however appeared to satisfy most British aims (Fromkin, ibid, p. 431). Ottoman finances came under British control. The Allies carved up Anatolia and left it for Greece and Italy to occupy. The treaty ceded Izmir
0844007 and Thrace to Greece and much of south-western Anatolia to Italy, while leaving eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia to the Armenians, French and British. It thus reduced the Ottoman Empire to a small parcel along the shores of the Black Sea, while a “virtually captive Turkish Sultan and his helpless government” looked on from Istanbul, now an international zone (Fromkin, ibid). The Allied Powers had serious trouble enforcing the treaty, however, and only Greece managed to claim any of its entitlement, which set Ataturk’s nationalists on a course to fight Greece for control of Anatolia, and Britain to belatedly recognise that the nationalists had long been the only Turkish faction worth negotiating with by the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Turkish strategists recognised that Turkey needed to acquire and protect Anatolia at all costs. Nationalist ideologues meanwhile cast Turks and Kurds as the inheritors of past Ottoman glory. In a December 1919 speech Mustafa Kemal explained that the Arab future lay elsewhere (Finkel 2005, p. 541). “For the resistance movement at this time, nationalism meant that Muslim Turks and Kurds were the heirs to the Ottoman Empire” (Finkel, ibid). Emboldened by military success, the nationalists reversed most of the 1920 treaty’s punitive measures in Lausanne in 1923 (see fig. 2). But it also became clear in Lausanne how differently Britain and Turkey viewed their primary outstanding issue: the Mosul frontier. Britain and Turkey had approached the conference with vastly different ideas about the purpose of the meeting (Schofield 2008, p. 403): “For Turkey the issue was the sovereign fate of the province. For Britain (somewhat disingenuously) the challenge centred on the exact location of the northern boundary for Iraq that included Mosul” (Schofield, ibid). In other words, “The question, as [Britain] visualized it, was along what mountain range or river valley can the most suitable defensive frontier be drawn?” (Lloyd 1926, p. 104). London was also interested in helping Nestorian Christian allies to either recapture their ancestral homes, from which they were driven during the war, or resettle along the forthcoming border, 5
0844007 providing Britain could secure one which placed that area inside Iraq (Iraq Policy 1924). Concern for the fate of the Nestorians was “essentially strategic” rather than Wilsonian given that Britain essentially saw the Nestorians as potential border guards (Schofield, ibid, p. 404). The Turkish position by contrast stemmed from how much it had accomplished since armistice, such as abolishing the Caliphate, exiling the House of Osman, establishing a new capital and national assembly in Ankara, and defeating the Greeks on the field of battle. The Turkish argument also grew out of principles articulated in the National Pact of 12 February 1920. It held that territories with a non-Arab Muslim majority that were not occupied by Allied forces at armistice should be considered part of the Turkish homeland (ICG 2008, p. 17, fn. 121). A British memorandum about the frontier dispute summarised the Turkish position: “The argument in the course of the Lausanne discussions was largely that the Kurds and Turks were essentially one, if not in race, at any rate in outlook and political sentiment” (Iraq and the Mosul Question 1925). It also explained the major differences between the two parties’ perceptions of what was at stake in Mosul, and therefore at Lausanne, such as the potential consequences of dividing the region’s Kurdish population: Kemal’s policy is to assimilate the Kurdish population into the new State of Turkey [….] the policy of the Irak Government and His Majesty’s Government, endorsed by the League Commission, is to plant the seeds of autonomy among the Iraki Kurds. The inevitable result is that the Kurds over the Turkish border, always in a state of effervescence and at present openly rebellious, will be fortified in their resistance to the process of assimilation and sooner or later will claim their right to coalesce with their semi-independent brothers in Iraq (Memoranda Respecting the Irak Frontier Dispute 1926).
Under the Lausanne Treaty, Britain and Turkey were to refer the dispute to the League of Nations if they could not resolve it by “friendly arrangement” inside nine-months’ time. Meanwhile, British officials considered how to treat Ataturk while Turkish forces persecuted Nestorians on the Turkish side of the provisional border and threatened an invasion of Iraqi 6
0844007 territory. “[M]ight not something of a spectacular burying of the hatchet be contrived? [...] a treaty of friendship and arbitration combining the maximum of moral implication with the minimum of material commitment be suggested?” (ibid). In other words, British officials were not overly concerned (Schofield 2007, p. 196).
Figure 2: Partitioning of Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanne, 1923 (commons.wikimedia.org)
By armistice, as British forces occupied Sharqat, 60km south of Mosul, and Ottoman forces were about to vacate Mosul Vilayet, it had already been decided – at least as far as Britain was concerned - that Mesopotamia’s three vilayets should become a state. Writes an early British administrator in Mosul: “From this time onwards the British Government regarded as settled the future of these three provinces [....] but as no final treaty had been concluded with Turkey the frontier remained undefined (Lloyd 1926, p. 104). It appears that Britain had settled the basics as early as 1915, according to de Bunsen Committee recommendations, based on a contemporary preference for “natural” borders. This preference happened to coincide with Britain’s strategic interests: A mountain border would protect Iraq from invasion from the north (Schofield 2008, p. 404), while “[a]ny frontier further to the south would sacrifice this natural advantage and impose on Iraq a much more difficult and costly
0844007 defensive problem” (Iraq and the Mosul Question). The Turkish argument that Iraq did not exist before the Armistice of Mudros was noted at The Hague but overruled given that Iraq “is morally entitled to ask that, since it has been created, it should be given frontiers which will allow it to live, both politically and economically” (quoted in Schofield, ibid, p. 405). In the coming years Turkey and Iraq realised they had something in common, however. In 1937 they signed the Saadabad Pact, indicating a commitment to consult each other on international affairs and uphold the “inviolability of their common frontiers.” As Robins notes, “such principles were clearly aimed at limiting the impact of the Kurdish issue” (Robins 1993, p. 671). Zakho, Iraq lies on the Silopi plain. This is where the Kurds attacked Xenophon’s 10,000 (Lloyd, ibid. p. 108) and near where Turkish and Kurdish border guards today cast a wary eye on each other at the Habur/Ibrahim Khalili border crossing while taxi drivers from both countries do a brisk cross-border trade. While Britain intended Iraq to become a buffer between Russia and the West, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the self-proclaimed shield of the Arabs, provided a counterweight to Iran in the Gulf, before the Iraq war Turkey feared that it would be thrust into the unwanted role of “regional balancer” (ICG 2005, p. 7). In a 2005 ICG report, Turkish analysts presciently worried that a federal Iraq consisting of Kurdish, Sunni and Shia regions might embolden Iran and require Turkey to turn its back on Ataturk’s founding notion that Turkey should avoid becoming entangled in Middle Eastern politics. The picture becomes more complex in light of rising nationalism in Turkey, accompanied by a precipitous decline in support for its American ally, as illustrated by the popularity of films such as Valley of the Wolves Iraq and books such as Metal Storm, a science fiction novel in which America conquers the Middle East before invading Turkey to exploit its massive reserves of boron, an element used in the production of spacecraft and
0844007 high-tech weaponry. The largest source of Turkish frustration appears to be what Turkey perceives as American collusion in the creation of an Iraqi Kurdish state.
Turkey’s desire to curb Kurdish ambitions in the Turkish southeast by curbing Kurdish ambitions in northern Iraq go back to the League of Nation’s Mosul ruling. As feared in 1926 – that “sooner or later [Turkish Kurds] will claim their right to coalesce with their semiindependent brothers in Iraq” (Memoranda Respecting the Irak Frontier Dispute) - so too have Turkish generals feared in recent years that a Kurdish state in Iraq would embolden Kurds in Turkey: “Such a development could then lead to irredentist claims on the Kurdishpopulated sectors of Turkey, or alternatively, could encourage some among Turkey's Kurds to become more insistent in their demands for independence” (Kirisci, ibid). The prospect of Iraqi Kurds generating their own oil wealth is central to Turkish concerns: “Prosperity in northern Iraq will contrast with poverty in south-eastern Turkey,” one analyst told the ICG (ibid, p. 7). But these concerns are old, as noted above. Turkey adopted the Turkmen population of northern Iraq following the first Gulf War, which established what would become a de facto Kurdish state, and has sought to cultivate Turkmen parties in Kirkuk as a counterweight to the Kurds (ibid, p. 10). While the ITF is widely and correctly viewed as a Turkish creation, and perhaps for that reason earned only roughly 10% of the Kirkuk vote in Iraq’s 2005 elections, Turkmen anxiety is not unfounded, even if their issue has been manipulated by Ankara. It is rooted in changing power relations in the north. For example, in 1926 Britain changed the language of education in Kurdish regions from Turkish to Kurdish, which, since Turkmen dominated Mosul Vilayet during the Ottoman years, was tantamount to giving primacy to the “language of the servants” (ibid, p. 9). Nevertheless, in 2005, the ITF stated that it would accept a federal Iraq providing Kirkuk becomes a separate entity administered by Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds (Dawde 2005). The Turkish government has also
0844007 accepted an Iraqi Kurdish entity, if not a Kurdish Kirkuk, since the latter “would pose a mortal danger to the integrity of the Turkish state” (ibid, p. 8). In other words, Turkey’s red lines have changed even as, as far as it is concerned, the consequences of one being crossed have not. Turkey has therefore welcomed the non-implementation of Article 140 to resolve Kirkuk’s status and has tried to ensure that its last red line, Kirkuk, cannot be crossed. In the summer of 2008 Ankara pressed ITF parliamentarians to insist on the 32-32-32-4 formula for Kirkuk in Iraq’s council of representatives, which recessed for the summer without passing the law (ICG 2008, p. 20-21). Kirkuk province therefore did not participate in Iraq’s 2009 provincial elections.
Since Demirel’s 1996 statement that the Turkey-Iraq border is not where that border should properly be, Turkish red lines have evolved. In 2003 Turkey insisted that it could only accept Iraqi Kurdish autonomy as outlined in the 1974 Iraqi Constitution (ICG 2005, p. 7), but Kurdish power-grabs in Mosul and Kirkuk exposed the military’s bluff (ibid, p. 8 fn. 49). Turkish intervention in the Kirkuk dispute appears to be on the shelf along with Kurdish independence. Turkish investment in northern Iraq rose from $2bn in 2005 (ibid, p. 16) to an estimated $7bn in 2009 (The Economist 2009) and relations have improved between Ankara and Erbil, even though Turkish nationalists maintain that Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies towards Kurds remain intertwined. As one Republican People’s Party parliamentarian explained: Finding a political solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey before eradicating the PKK means giving one-sided concessions to the terrorist organisation. If you try to find ways to placate terrorists, you end up exacerbating terrorism [….] Radical Kurds in Turkey are demanding a political solution in order to prepare the ground for secession. The PKK did not launch a fight against Turkey to improve Kurds’ socio-economic and cultural situation. If we fail to understand their real plan, we will pay a huge price: the territorial integrity of Turkey (ICG 2008, p. 3).
0844007 Eradicating the PKK in Turkey means attacking them in northern Iraq, which provokes fear among Iraqi Kurds that Turkey’s economic investment in the region is a Trojan horse. But a parliamentarian from the ruling Justice and Development Party presented a different view of the Kurdish issue: The problem is not in Iraqi Kurdistan, it is here in Turkey. It is only because we have not been able to solve our Kurdish problem that we view Iraqi Kurdistan as a threat. Turkey fears that Kurdish independence in Iraq will exacerbate separatist feelings inside Turkey, and this in turn provides a pretext for suppressing democratic openings in Turkey (ibid, p. 4). Thus Turkey has evolved a multi-pronged approach to the Kurdish issue, one that might appease the military Kemalists without further alienating Turkey’s Kurdish constituency or the United States. Turkey has achieved success in recent years, gaining the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) assent for its 2007 operation in the Qandil Mountains without conceding Kirkuk. Simultaneously, Ankara has sought to deepen the Kurdish region’s economic dependence on Turkey, while insisting on referring to the KRG in official statements as the “local administration in the north” until Iraqi Kurds declare the PKK a terrorist organisation (ibid, p. 12). The Mosul Dispute thus persists in a number of ways in Turkey, including in what Robins has described as a “spirit of organizational and ideological competition between the secularist old guard, represented most visibly by the Turkish general staff…and the emerging counter-elite” (Robins 2003, p. 547-548). Turkey makes no territorial claim to northern Iraq. Demirel’s 1996 attempt to blame Turkey’s PKK problem on the loss of Mosul Vilayet did not question that border’s right to exist. Nevertheless, nearly 100 years after Britain’s economic and territorial arguments defeated Turkey’s cultural claim to Mosul (see Burghardt 1973, p. 233-238), Turkey retains an emotional attachment to the region, by which rising Kurdish fortunes in northern Iraq are perceived by many as a security threat to Turkey. There are clearly limits to Turkish adventurism. The Turkish military, the guardian of Kemalism, feels it has been weakened by 11
0844007 the EU’s insistence on civilian oversight, this at a time when facts on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan also limit the military’s options for influencing events across the border. In 2007, the military posted warnings on its website about the creeping Islamism of Turkish politics while pursuing court cases to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party from Turkish politics. Kurdish autonomy remains a contentious domestic issue (along with economic development in the Turkish southeast generally). But Turkey’s foreign policy toward northern Iraq focuses primarily on the perennial goal of destroying the PKK in their mountain enclaves - where, as Branting ensured in the 1920s, a “natural” border largely follows the course (if not along its peaks) of the Qandil Mountain range - not overthrowing the KRG. In this context Valley of the Wolves Iraq appears as a strange cris de coeur. It places postinvasion America in place of post-First World War Britain, equally disregarding Turkish interests in northern Iraq for broader strategic concerns. Speaking to Polat Alemdar and Turkey, the character of Sam William Marshall explains: You make your own rules; draw your own red lines. You have your own Iraqi politics which state if we don't want something to happen, there's nothing anyone can do to make it happen. Let me tell you something. We stepped all over your red lines, we screwed your Iraqi politics and I'm to understand that you’re not offended by this, but you are offended by these hoods? (Akar, ibid).
It cannot be said that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ratified the Turkey-Iraq border under duress. After all, in English, his middle name generally translates into either “perfection” or “complete” (Time 1965). We might look back to the Mosul Question for cues to explain how Turkey has behaved in the face Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, which is one long-term consequence of how that question was answered. “Turkey stands to lose so much and to gain so little of real value to her in her effort at national regeneration that it is hardly conceivable that she will run the risk [of aggression]. She may bluff for a time or refuse to give a definite
0844007 acceptance to the verdict, but she will eventually face facts there as she has always done elsewhere” (Iraq and the Mosul Question).
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