The Turkmen dilemma of AKP government

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Rabi' al-Thani 05, 1433 2012-02-27

Daily News Analysis

by Crescent International

Many Iraqi Turkmens are growing eager to form their own defense force.


February 27, 2012, 09:05 EST

The escalating conflict in northern Iraq between the Iraqi Turkmens, Kurds and Saudi/US backed militants will create a political dilemma for the AKP government in Turkey.

According to the 2011 European Parliamentary hearing on the situation of the Iraqi Turkmens “the last reliable census data from Iraq, gathered in 1957, identifies the Turkmens as the third largest ethnic group in Iraq” and contemporary data puts the number of Iraqi Turkmens at over 3 million.

As most Iraqi Turkmens are followers of the Shia school of Islamic thought, their presence in northern Iraq puts them under twin pressures. The extremely hostile attitude of the US/Saudi backed khawarij armed groups and historically tense relations with nationalist Kurds, makes the socio-political environment for Iraqi Turkmens particularly hostile in northern Iraq.

Taking into account that after the US aggression on Iraq, Washington granted de-facto independence to the Kurdish nationalists creating their own enclave in northern Iraq, the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is unable to exercise its sovereignty there to protect Iraqi Turkmens. This situation leads to a scenario where many Iraqi Turkmens are growing eager to form their own defence force.

On February 26, the Qatari government channel, Al Jazeera, reported on the growing sentiment among Iraqi Turkmens to create their own military defence force in order to protect themselves from the Kurdish peshmerga militants and the US/Saudi backed khawarij minded groups. This outcome will not only add to new problems within Iraq, but will also affect Turkey.

After the US army was forced to withdraw from Iraq, the AKP government in Turkey made a deal with the Iraqi Kurds to limit the presence of PKK in northern Iraq. Ankara asked the Iraqi Kurds to limit, even if partially, PKK operations against Turkey from Iraq. In return Ankara invested vast amounts of money in northern Iraq. As of 2012 there were 1,000 Turkish companies registered and the volume of trade between Turkey and northern Iraq reached $8 billion at the end of 2012, bypassing the central government in Baghdad.

Considering the relentless persecution of Iraqi Turkmens, the conflict in northern Iraq is likely to escalate. Once that happens, the Iraqi Kurds will ask the Turkish government to pacify the Turkmens in the area. Since many Iraqi Turkmens do not see the government of Turkey as an honest broker on this issue and identify themselves more with the Islamic movement in Iraq that is allied with Islamic Iran, Turkey will not be able to satisfy the demands of its Kurdish partners. In retaliation, the Iraqi Kurds will allow expansion of operating space for the PKK in northern Iraq.

In any case, the PKK, backed by Israel and the US, uses northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks against Turkey, but the Iraqi Kurds keep these actions under certain control and do not allow them to carry out attacks inside Turkey. Once the Turkmens begin resisting the de-facto ethnic cleansing and Ankara’s inability to provide the required assistance to the Iraqi Kurds, the restraining order on PKK activities will be removed.

Even if the AKP government decides to apply greater pressure on the Turkmens inside Iraq, it will face a backlash from its own Turkish population in Turkey who see the Iraqi Turkmens as their ethnic and religious brethren. How exactly the Turkmen predicament will play out for the AKP government is hard to tell at the moment, but a Catch-22 situation appears to be emerging.


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