Ankara likely to remain opposed to Kurdish state in Iraq

Although Ankara has developed advanced ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government, and despite the crisis in Iraq, Turkey is likely to maintain its opposition to the formation of an autonomous Kurdish state.

al-monitor Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), his family and Justice and Development Party (AKP) members attend a meeting where he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election in Ankara, July 1, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

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turkey, politics, kurds, islamic state, iraqi kurdistan, iraq, independence

Jul 1, 2014

The declaration by the National Security Council and statements made after the visit to Ankara by Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, indicate that despite the recent developments in Iraq, Turkey will not change its principal stand on Iraq.

One of the basic principles of this policy is to preserve the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq. This is why Turkey is advocating formation of the national accord government in Baghdad that will represent different segments of Iraqi society.

This stand on principle by Turkey means that Iraq should not be divided even under new conditions created by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This in turn means that Ankara opposes the declaration of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

It is significant that Ankara chose to state its position while ISIS was setting up a Sunni-based Islamic State in the territory it controls in Iraq and just after Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said that the time has come for Kurdish independence. In a way, Ankara was responding to separatist intentions and declarations.

It was beyond doubt that there have been radical changes in Turkey’s attitude toward Iraqi Kurdistan and relations with it were developing at an amazing pace. The latest example of this was for Turkey to assume the sale of Kurdistan oil to foreign markets (led by Israel) despite all the obstruction by the United States and Baghdad.

The position is clear: Turkey does not want Iraqi Kurdistan to declare independence, but won’t oppose independent action by the Barzani administration in its advanced autonomous status.

This is the understanding prevailing between Ankara and Erbil. It is beneficial for both sides. Turkey is aware of the advantages it has gained with its economic and political ties with the Kurdistan authority. Benefits of this are visible not only in foreign politics but also domestically in the peace process with the Kurds.

Despite all this, Ankara maintains its standing position against an independent Kurdistan. One reason is the serious instability that might follow the division of Iraq. Also, we can’t ignore the concern about the implications of such Kurdish independence for the Kurdish movement inside Turkey and potential threats to national unity and security it might entail.

The conditions of the Turkmen in Iraq and the status of Kirkuk are also causes of serious distrust against an independent Kurdistan. The latest events reflect a new Iraqi reality: ISIS’s growing control of the territory it has occupied and the heating of sectarian frictions make it difficult to achieve the goals of preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and to form a national accord government.

How all these will shape the future of Iraq and Kurdistan and what kinds of policies will have to be devised are on Turkey’s priority agenda.

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More from  Sami Kohen