Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region
The Iraqi Kurds held their own referendum on independence on Sep25. The Voter turnout in favor of the Kurdish separation from Iraq was over 90%. Turkey had already expected such a result. Therefore, it strongly refused that plebiscite and called the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) for rethinking its geopolitical outcomes.
Turkey rejects any regional changes that might threaten its territorial unification. Turkey has its Kurdish minority, whose number reaches more than 15 million people. So, it is believed that the independence of the IKR will provoke the Kurds of Turkey to claim a similar independent state. This will certainly result in devastating effects on the future of the Turkish geography. Consequently, it is now starting to shift its relations with Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who was its strongest ally in Iraq.
Turkey warned that it would take various punitive measures in case Barzan, who was the pioneer of the independence, does not suspend the results of the referendum. Accordingly, it has carried out these actions: closing the border crossings, shutting down the airspace, withdrawing the companies from Irbil and disrupting of the Kurdish oil export. For, It is anticipated that such steps will affect the IKR' economy severely. For instance, closing the Habour Border gate will daily prevent more than 7000 trucks from entering into IKR. These vehicles bring different consumer goods. As a result, the prices of food, vegetables, and household items are now rising rapidly.
On the military side, Turkey invited the Iraqi Chief of Staff, Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi to discuss the latest developments in this region with his counterpart, Hulusi Akar. This meeting has led to held mutual military maneuvers on the Turkish border with the IKR. Additionally, Turkey cautioned that it would stop training the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga.
Even though that Turkey does not desire to attack Irbil for various reasons, the military exercises have been a clear message to the Kurdish politicians that if they do not change their project of independence and preserve their position within the United Iraq, all options would remain open. Turkey believes that there is a plot targeting its regional status and thus it confirms that the US and Israel stand behind the Kurdish venture of independence. This degradation in the Turkish-American relations has begun since the failed coup aiming at ousting Mr. Erdogan, the present Turkish president, in 2016.
At the Diplomatic level, Turkey has changed its political discourse towards the Iraqi PM, Mr. Haider al-Abadi. A year ago, Mr. Erdogan used harsh words against Mr. Abadi because he had not allowed the Turkish forces to participate in the liberation of Mosul city from IS. But now Turkey supports Mr. Abadi and all the decisions he made to deal with the IKR. Then, Turkey will put more pressure on the IKR through backing the position of the central government in Baghdad, and through cooperation with Iran.
The Iranian government considers that the independence of the IKR as a creation of a new Israel on its northwest frontier. The Israeli flags raised by some Iraqi Kurdish persons on the eve of the referendum gave a bad impression that Israel was backing the independence of Kurdistan. Turkey understands well that Iran of the Islamic revolution has zero tolerance for any project supported by Israel. For this reason, Turkey has initiated an urgent dialogue with Iran to counter the Kurdish independent state.
In the light of these facts, analysts expect that both of these powers will uphold any Iraqi military operation in Kirkuk and Mosul. The Iraqi Kurds are dreaming of annexation these oil-rich cities to their supposed state. If they cannot keep their control on them, then their state will not last long.
In conclusion, Turkey will make all efforts to undermine the Kurdish independence. It will not let the external powers change its geographical map nor will it break the Ataturk's principle: the sanctity of the Turkish boundaries. On this base, we have to ask these critical questions: Do the Iraqi Kurds have the ability to stand against this Turkish-Iranian-Iraqi alliance? Is the Kurdish community ready to meet the economic and political challenges of the next confrontation?
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Middle East Online.