Iraq’s Turmoil: Likelihoods to Open up Pandora’s Box for Turkey

Idrees Mohammed

The rift rises between Iraq and Turkey as Iraq summons Turkish ambassador to call on his government to consider the “necessity of avoiding anything that might disturb” the ties. The move comes amid the already chilly atmosphere between Ankara and Baghdad due to the former’s attitude to the latter’s Shiite-led government’s action to arrest Iraq’s Vice President. Turkish Prime Minister warned his Iraqi counterpart over the action, warning that his action will hurt the country’s democracy and urging him to reduce the tension. His calls were harshly slammed by Iraqi Prime Minister who expressed surprise of Turkey’s “interference" in his country’s internal affairs, declaring his determination not to “allow that absolutely.”
Iraq passes through a dangerous period as the “big mosaic rock” between Shiite and Sunni ultimately exploded, causing an unprecedented political turmoil and uproar in “new Iraq.” The Kurds found themselves automatically involved in the game which as well attracted several countries including the United States, Turkey and Iran primarily. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Syria are reckoned sides to the turmoil. Unless a compromise is reached, the domestic, regional and even international risks are high.
Much of the turmoil is attributed to the Syrian epic and the emerging authoritarianism in Iraq. Iraq’s Shiite-led government sided with Iran and Syrian government on several occasions including its allegedly financial support to the Syria regime and the objection to the Arab League’s decision in order to maintain the regime in power. Rather to contain the regional Sunni powerhouse’s anger, Iraq’s attitudes flew them into fury. Most of the Gulf countries and Turkey have felt discomfort against Syria’s partnership and Iraq’s close relations with Iran.
The League’s strong activism in conjunction with Turkey’s support on Syria is partially considered within this context. Together with Turkey, the influential Arab countries are yet to yank Syria out of Iran’s satellite of influence; Baghdad travels closer to Iran, making them furious.
In addition to that, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a tendency to strengthen Shiite’s grasp on power which is perhaps aimed at buttressing the “Shiite Crescent.” Since the Obama administration decided the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Maliki has reportedly increased the already launched underlying campaign, mainly targeting the Sunni. The broad campaign of arrests and dismissal is excused by allegations that the former Ba’ath members plot to overthrow the government, or the continuation of de-Ba’athification, or a deal agreed with Syrian government by which it provided information about Ba’ath members to Iraqi government in return for political and economic support.
However, most of the observers are skeptical about these allegations. There is one logical reason that explains the reality behind the campaign: Maliki’s ambitions to neutralize Iraq’s Sunni figures and their regional allies as well as his other political rivals.
That makes the Kurds extremely worry: the arrest warrant against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is politically motivated. Should that not be the case, the Kurds would react differently while hoping to prevent being involved in any inter-sectarian tension. Yet, they cannot remain bystander to the ongoing efforts that are principally aimed at marginalizing political factions and disturbing the power distribution. The Kurds have always pushed for decentralization in power, converse to Maliki’s ambitions to centralize it. All in all, the Kurds expect the worst scenario in which Maliki’s campaign extends to include them.
Turkey is particularly concerned about Iraq’s turmoil. Iran and Maliki have a genius for getting on Turks nerves. Iraq’s territorial integrity and the establishment of a potent broad-based government in Baghdad are considered Turkey’s top priorities.
The polarization of Iraq’s Arabs, which is a result of the current turmoil, would lead to dangerous consequences for Turkey. Though Turkey considers Sunnis a bulwark against Iran’s influence and a balancing factor against the Shiite, a Turkish-Sunni-Kurdish axis would be good to practice pressure on the Shiite and Iran but might not be effectively favorable to Turkish policy on Iraq.
Turkey’s exclusion or marginalization of Shiite would greatly affect Turkish interests in Baghdad, deepen the division of the region and Iraq’s society on ethnic or religious bases and increase the likelihood of Iraq’s territorial dismantlement. In either case, its national interests are at stake. As far as Turkey has to involve in Iraq’s politics, it should seek to achieve a sort of balance in its attitudes towards Iraq’s different religious and ethnic segments and successfully engage them in a power-sharing process.
In this regard, Iran’s position is quite important to Turkey. It would not be surprise to expect that Iran had an upper hand behind the current turmoil in Iraq not only to hit Iraq’s Sunni but to convey a clear message to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Indeed, Turkey scrambled to believe that Iran played this role. Earlier, Iran has several times expressed a deep dismay to Turkey’s policy towards Syria and its alignment with the West.
In the meantime, Iran faces tough sanctions and is coming under increasing pressure from the West. To strengthen the position in defending its interests, Iran made regular threats against Turkey and the West. For Turkey, Iranian manipulation greatly endangers Turkish national interests and vice versa. Accordingly, striking an agreement with Iran is crucial to Turkey’s policy towards Iraq, thereby its stability. This was a key reason of Davutoğlu’s late visit to Iran.
Iraq’s turmoil can have critical ramifications for the whole region. It would especially be dangerous, not if al-Hashmi is convicted of running death squads, but if certain regional countries are convicted of supporting such squads through him. On the other hand, deepening the polarization of Iraq’s Arab society, the emergence of authoritarian rule and a narrow-based government in Baghdad would have unintended consequences to Turkey. Unless Turkey manages otherwise, its prioritized interests are in jeopardy, including the opening up of a Pandora’s box of domestic situation. Idrees Mohammed Observer of Turkey’s foreign policy. On Twitter, follow him at @IdreesMohammd.