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Turkish « Sport » for Baghdad 26 mars 2009

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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Al Hayat Newspaper (Lebanon), 26 March 2009

Zouheir Kseibati

The offer made by Turkish President Abdullah Gül to open camps in his country to host the Iraqi sport teams was not the alternative to his demand for Baghdad, and specifically the Iraqi Kurds, to close down the « terrorist camps » of the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On his visit to Baghdad, and as he revived ties that have been severed since the time of late President Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr, the Turkish guest did not risk the gains his country has made thanks to the « new page » of relations it opened by discussing the rights of the Turkmen in northern Iraq or opening the wounds of Kirkuk’s maps and fate.

He simply informed his hosts and the concerned parties in the region that Ankara was prepared to fill in any vacuum that results from the American withdrawal from Iraq and, as such, would not allow the other regional force, i.e. Iran, to manipulate this withdrawal in order to monopolize influence over Iraq and its leadership.

As for Gül’s « polite » warning in Baghdad, whereby he offered the Kurds one of two choices, either « expel the terrorists » or declare their land open, it was only a prelude to declaring the Turkish preparedness. It also presents the other face of the warning directed by President Jalal Talabani at the PKK fighters, whereby he first used the term « the so-called armed struggle » of the Party.

As for this message of flirtation that the Iraqi President sent before Gül’s arrival, it sounded the death knell of the Kurdish « dream, » especially as Talabani is the Kurdish leader who interceded many times between Ankara and Abdullah Öcalan before the latter was kidnapped and arrested.

In this « new page, » the ruling Justice and Development Party cannot convince the Turkish Kurds of its democracy commended by Talabani, while the PKK’s armed operations and blows keep stirring up emotions in the confrontation with the Turkish army. Any laxness by the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan would expose it to the suspicions of the Generals.

While Gül’s insistence on closing the PKK camps in northern Iraq is similar to Tehran’s insistence on closing the issue of the People’s Mujahedin organization in that country, the reality is that the PKK militants can still wound the pride of the Turkish Generals, while the weak presence of the People’s Mujahedin in Iraq poses no security or military threat to Iran. But this is a period for settling regional scores and for preparations for the post-American withdrawal period. In this sense, Ankara and Tehran seem ready to reach out for Baghdad if it abandons the armed opposition groups and terminates the safe havens for those rebelling against legitimate authorities.

For this reason, the PKK does not seem to be exaggerating when it pictures itself as the target of a liquidation plan, especially when Talabani considers that this Party’s weapons, which remained for many years the tool to achieve the dream, now constitute an insult to the Kurds on the map of the Iraqi-Iranian-Turkish trio. The President knows that the Kurds of northern Iraq, who benefited before the invasion from an American-Western protective umbrella, were also supported by Ocalan’s fighters in confronting the oppressive machinations of Saddam Hussein and the Turkish invasions.

But this is the end of the « dream » of a Kurdish state, heralded by Talabani. For the post-US invasion « new Iraq » is in more need than Turkey and Iran of good and quiet neighborly relations based on common interests. Undoubtedly, Gül did not hesitate to tempt the Iraqi « strategic » partner: with the water issue to satisfy the Iraqi thirst, and with commercial exchange which will quadruple, thus guaranteeing the prosperity of Kurdistan-Iraq. Yet the President of the state of Kurdistan-Iraq, Massoud Barzani, did not celebrate the Turkish President’s visit because of the past complications between the Kurdish leader and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Even if it does not result in anything more than the diplomacy of water and commerce, the card of oil interests, and a Turkish share wrestled from the western companies through contracts that will not come under doubt as purely « Kurdish » contracts, Gül’s visit replaces oil pipes from Kirkuk and exploration rights with claims about the « historic Turkish rights » in the city of Kirkuk, which flourished under Turgut Ozal.

This is the price of friendship which Gül offered to Baghdad. The region is on the verge of a new era. Formerly objecting to facilitating the invasion of Iraq, Turkey is now eager to open its borders and bases when the time comes for bidding the Americans farewell. With this farewell, Ankara will not want to find itself in friction with Iranian « interests » or forced to deal with Baghdad through Tehran.

One can also say that the Iraqi Kurds will find themselves forced to choose one of two options: defending the PKK’s weapons, or enjoying the Turkish protective umbrella after the American retreat.

Gül carried an olive branch in his hand: either security or the « dream. »


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