This article examines Turkish foreign policy towards Iraq in 2009. Turkey’s Iraq policy had been conditioned by mainly security factors. In the last couple of years, however, we have witnessed an increasing use of tools other than security in the formulation of this policy as not only military factors but also trade and other tools of diplomacy have been effectively used by Turkey. The year 2009 witnessed several steps which enabled increasing cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, such as the Iraqi elections. Turkey has continued to develop contacts and start dialogue with different political actors in Iraq and has hosted heads of different ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. An important step that strengthened political and economic relations was the creation of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
Turkish foreign policy, Iraq, Kurds, USA, elections.
The relationship between Iraq and Turkey is one of the most important topics in Turkish policy towards the Middle East. During the Cold War era, relations between Turkey and Iraq were cool. During and after the Gulf War, however, contacts between the two countries increased. The power vacuum in the north of the country after the Gulf War created serious setbacks for the Turkish struggle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and, consequently, Turkish policy towards Iraq was conditioned mainly by security issues. In the last couple of years, however, we have witnessed an increasingly use of tools other than security in the formulation of Iraq policy, as economics and other tools of diplomacy have been effectively used by Turkey.
One of the important turning points in Turkish foreign policy towards the Middle East in general and towards Iraq in particular was the capture of PKK leader Öcalan in 1999 and the decline in the security threats against Turkey afterwards. After this, attacks against Turkey emanating from Iraq declined and the heated atmosphere of the 1990s cooled. This situation continued until the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US- led coalition forces headed to topple the Saddam Hussein regime. Considering the negative outcomes of the Gulf War and the lack of international legitimacy for the invasion, along with the uncertainties about future scenarios after the invasion, Turkey opted for a policy which was different from that of its long-standing ally, the US. The lack of order and stability in the months after the invasion was a source of concern for Turkey. Beside the increasing PKK attacks, the threats against Turkish citizens doing business in Iraq affected Turkish attitudes. More important than all of these was the policy of Turkey against the possibility of a future independent Kurdish state in the north of Iraq. But the negative atmosphere between Turkey and Kurdish politicians just after the invasion has been transformed into a positive one in the last couple of years and Turkey has followed a policy in which it has aimed to establish contacts with every actor in Iraq.
Previously, Turkey had refrained from having contacts with Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, but in order to achieve its foreign policy aims, Ankara started to act in line with the new realities in Iraq. Instead of relying on military means to overcome the threat of terrorism from northern Iraq, Turkey has lately increased its contacts with Arab and Kurdish authorities in Iraq and tried to convince them to cooperate more in the fight against the PKK. In this respect, Turkey’s new stance became obvious after 2007. After the PKK attacks against military posts along the Turkish-Iraqi border threatened to create conditions similar to those of the 1990s, Turkey reacted not only through military means, but also contacted both Iraqi and US authorities to ask for cooperation. Aware of the possible negative outcomes of any Turkish military intervention on the fragile nature of Iraqi politics, Turkey’s counterparts partially responded to Turkish demands. In addition to this, new factors influenced Turkish foreign policy towards Iraq; the planned withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011 and Washington’s desire to prevent any development that might destabilize Iraq.
Several steps for increasing cooperation in Turkish relations with Iraq were introduced in 2009. Although security issues were still an important factor in bilateral relations, their primacy was in decline and factors such as trade were increasingly playing a role in Turkish-Iraqi relations. In terms of political relations, the two countries signed several agreements to strengthen their ties. Beside several high-level reciprocal visits, the establishment of the “High Level Strategic Cooperation Council” laid the groundwork for stable relations and in diversifying bilateral bonds. As a result, in addition to advancements in the spheres of politics and economics, cooperation between the two neighbors in terms of security matters has worked out better than in the past.
As a reflection of the advancements in the security situation of the country, the Iraqi government has had the opportunity to make long-term plans in several policy areas for the future of the country. Turkey has continued to develop contacts and start dialogue with different political actors in Iraq and has hosted leaders from different ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. In this respect, the visits of Shiite leaders such as Mukteda al-Sadr and Ammer al-Hakim have constituted spectacular examples. At the same time, as a reflection of Turkey’s increasing profile in the region in the last couple of years, Ankara has played an important role in overcoming the grievances between Syria and Iraq after the bombings in Baghdad in August 2009. All of these developments might be interpreted as examples of Turkish efforts to contribute to Iraqi stability.