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Turkey’s big game 15 mai 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013, p. 6

By striking a framework deal for buying oil stakes from the regional authorities of Iraq’s Kurdish north, Turkey has lifted the veil on a grand economic strategy to match its rapprochement with the hitherto separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).

Turkish leaders have made clear that they see northern Iraq as the natural extension of Turkey’s economy . The transformation that has helped sweep prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development party (AKP) to three election victories, as well as the region’s political turmoil, have tilted the stakes in Ankara’s decade-long conflict with its Kurdish citizens. Hence Mr Erdogan’s seeming willingness to engage in talks with the PKK and to soften some of Turkey’s harsh constraints on Kurdish cultural expression and political rights.

The peace dividend could be considerable. Reconciliation with the Kurds can strengthen Turkish political influence and economic clout in Kurdish areas across its borders, including with Syrian Kurds once Bashar al-Assad finally falls. Most of all, Ankara is solidifying its ties with an Iraqi Kurdistan moving closer to de facto economic and political independence, a process Ankara’s actions may well be accelerating.

This comes at the price of alienating Baghdad and stoking the fissile forces in Iraq. No doubt when Mr Erdogan meets Barack Obama on Thursday, the US president will warn him that working with the Kurdistan Regional Government will raise the risk of Iraq’s disintegration and push Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki further into the arms of Iran. But Mr Maliki has done more than most to pull Iraq’s communities apart. He can hardly move deeper into Tehran’s embrace than he already has.

Mr Maliki has the chance to offer Iraqi minorities – Kurdish but also Sunni – bright enough prospects within a united Iraq for them not to pursue alternatives. He is therefore the right target for pressure. Some in Turkey will argue that the KRG deal achieves just that.

For Ankara, the political and economic logic of closer ties with the Iraqi Kurds is overwhelming. Turkey’s huge current account deficit largely matches its energy imports. By tapping more of the Iraqi oil and gas in KRG territory, Turkey will gain in both price and security – it currently relies on Russia and Iran for gas.

Turkey is playing a big game. But in a region whose post-Ottoman settlement has been unravelling since the second US invasion of Iraq, this game carries risks too.

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