Introduction In addition to Iran, Turkey plays a profound role in the politics of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Given its geostrategic location, large population, economic capabilities, and international alliances (Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-NATO), Turkey is a significant regional actor that the Iraqi Kurds cannot ignore. Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan share a long and porous border and the two are tied through common culture, history, and religion. More significantly, Turkey has security, economic, and geostrategic interests in Iraqi Kurdistan that cannot be overlooked by the ruling elite in Ankara. The nature and forms of interactions between Turkey and the KRG influence not just Iraq’s future stability but also the shape of regional politics and its future alliances. Therefore, the development in relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan deserves greater attention. Since 2002, the relation between Ankara and Erbil ¾ the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan ¾ has evolved from an outright hostility to a close alliance and finally to a strained relationship caused by Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence ambitions. What explains the ups and downs in Turkey-Iraqi Kurdistan’s relations over the last decade? Why did Turkey ¾ acting against the will and interests of the central authorities in Baghdad ¾ decided to leave its previous suspicions of, and hostility towards, the Iraqi Kurds behind and form an alliance with Erbil beginning with 2009? What caused Turkey to abandon its alliance with the Iraqi Kurds in the aftermath of Erbil’s decision to conduct an independence referendum on September 25, 2017? How will terminating the alliance between Erbil and Ankara affect Turkey’s ability to secure its interests in Iraq? This study answers those questions by analysing and examining the domestic and external factors that drove Turkey close to the Iraqi Kurds.
It also examines and analyses the factors that forced Turkey to ignore its alliance with Erbil and to eventually act against the Iraqi Kurds’ interests in Iraq. The study finally assesses the ramifications of the end of the alliance between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan for Turkey’s interests in Iraq. The study posits that since coming to power in 2002, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) took a different stance on the Kurdish issue both inside and outside Turkey aiming to solve Ankara’s Kurdish dilemma but the party largely failed to formulate a clear Kurdish strategy. In essence, Ankara has been inconsistent in its political approach to the Kurdish challenge and that discrepancy has been mainly responsible for the recent damage to the alliance between Ankara and Erbil. If Turkey abandons its close alliance with the Iraqi Kurds, it may struggle to secure its interests in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan in the future. The study depends on data on the subject found in secondary literature (books, journal article, and other online sources) and in Kurdish, Iraqi, Turkish, and international media ¾ that have covered the interactions between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan ¾ and employs them in order to support its arguments. The study is divided into three sections. The first section looks at Turkey’s security, economic and geostrategic interests in Iraq.
The second section of the study examines the origins of the alliance between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. The final section will shift the focus of the analysis to the factors that resulted in the weakening of the alliance between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. The study ends with a number of conclusions regarding the strained relationship between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan in the aftermath of the Kurdish independence move.