Turkey has a new strategy in its war against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terror. This new strategy is based on three principles: domestic peace, regional legitimacy and coordination with the United States and the European Union. This conceptualization guides Turkish policy to follow a new course at domestic, regional and international levels and has implications for relations with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and the Iraqi state. An analysis of the strategy will help in understanding the future course of Turkish foreign policy toward Iraq.
The Kurdish question is a serious domestic problem for Turkey. If one adds the terror dimension, it may be considered a more vital threat to domestic peace than political Islam. Turkey's EU membership process widened the boundaries of the political system and initiated a number of reforms for Kurdish language and cultural rights. However, the pace of reforms has slowed and subsequent crises over the presidential elections and AK Party closure cases have held Turkish politics hostage to domestic political considerations. The reforms as they were, did not go far enough to satisfy the demands of Kurdish parties in Turkey. The Democratic Society Party (DTP) formed a group in parliament after being elected as independent MPs, thus overcoming the 10 percent national threshold obstacle.
But the ruling party still received more support than the DTP in populated Kurdish regions. Government reforms and voter preferences had created a relatively suitable environment for a solution to the Kurdish problem. The AK Party targets a normalization of its security-dominated agenda to preserve a peaceful atmosphere to address the problem. This was evident during the Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq to destroy PKK bases. There is speculation that the AK Party has a comprehensive package of measures to solve the domestic Kurdish problem, but the party has to date only announced some economic investment plans in Kurdish populated southeastern Turkey.
Turkey's new strategy in the war against terror prioritizes regional legitimacy to draw the support of Iraq's neighbors and other influential states on this sensitive issue. Turkey utilizes the formalized meetings of Iraq's neighboring states to pursue regional diplomacy to make its case with the countries of the region. The Extended Iraqi Neighbors meeting in Istanbul in early November was a sign of Turkey's ability to pursue regional diplomacy for the Iraqi cause. Turkish sensitivities regarding the territorial unity of Iraq and PKK terror dominated the agenda at the meeting and generated support from Iraq's neighbors as well as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The final declaration emphasized the urgent need for cooperation against terrorist groups in Iraq. Turkey's military incursions, meanwhile, did not raise serious criticism in the region where there were only expressions of concern during the operation. Turkey has created a diplomatic channel with the countries of the region and is likely to preserve its dialogue with them in the war against PKK terror.
Turkey also pursues international diplomacy and prioritizes coordination and cooperation with the US and EU. Recent months have witnessed a high level of Turkish diplomatic activity vis-a-vis the US and EU, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's meetings with US President George W. Bush and the heads of several European countries. Turkey secured US support in the war against the PKK and received intelligence support during the operations in northern Iraq. The single digit sympathy for the US in Turkish public opinion rose to double digits as a result. The US response to the operation was balanced and Turkish-American cooperation in this respect is likely to continue. Turkey also aims to prevent the diplomatic and financial activities of the PKK in Europe and, compared to recent years, EU support for Turkey in the struggle against PKK terror is more visible while there are new measures against PKK proxies in different European countries.
Turkey's new priorities and policy will have implications for relations with Iraq. To ensure regional legitimacy and focus on internal peace the prerogative is to develop relations with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq. To create a stable regional environment on the Kurdish question and continue Turkish attacks on PKK targets, Turkey needs confidence building and constructive relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey's emphasis should be for peaceful co-existence with the Kurdish regional administration within the Iraqi state. There are enough signs that suggest a deepening of political and economic relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraq's Kurdish President Jalal Talabani paid an official visit to Turkey and the head of the Kurdish regional government, Mesoud Barazani, expressed hope for an improvement of relations with Turkey. Turkey's coordination and cooperation policy with the US and EU also dictates such a policy line.
Turkey also considers itself a responsible actor in Iraq and tries to preserve good relations with all segments of Iraqi society. Ankara has influence with Sunni circles and contributed to their participation in the constitution and election processes. Turkey persuaded the Iraqi central government that the PKK is a common enemy and Turkey's military incursion only targets the PKK presence in northern Iraq. There is a continuous dialogue mechanism between Baghdad and Ankara. Turkey seems closer to the Iraqi government than ever before and is confident that it has developed a certain level of trust with Iraqi politicians. This new regional profile is also a signal of further Turkish involvement in building a stable and secure Iraq.- Published 17/4/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org