In the past, Ankara mediated in the Balkans, Palestine, Iraq and the Iran nuclear deal, among other issues. But in recent years, changing regional geopolitics narrowed the room for maneuver of any country seeking to mediate between conflicting parties.
Next week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is scheduled to visit Baghdad to mediate between Iraq’s central government and the KRG. He said the request for mediation came directly from the Kurds.
Post-referendum, the two sides have failed to resolve their dispute, which has also affected neighboring Turkey. “Our desire is to overcome these problems as soon as possible in the framework of Iraq’s territorial integrity,” said Cavusoglu, adding that if the Kurds accept this, “we will not have a problem” with the KRG. Despite their conflicting policies in the region, Turkey, the KRG and Iraq have mutual interests that are pushing them to find common ground.
The KRG’s economy mainly depends on oil exports, and has suffered severely due to the referendum crisis. This has left the KRG with no option but to normalize relations with both Turkey and Iraq as soon as possible. In the past decade, Turkey has played a major role in helping the KRG develop its economic and financial infrastructures.
As a sign of its commitment to fight terrorism, the KRG pledged to ensure security along the Turkey-Iraq border, which terrorists frequently use to infiltrate Turkey. Baghdad and the KRG “need to reach an agreement,” said Cavusoglu, adding that Ankara will “do its best to reach this end.”
For Turkey, being on good terms with both sides is very important. In the past, having better relations with the KRG than with Baghdad presented Ankara with myriad challenges. Iraq became an Iranian sphere of influence, and a route for Tehran to expand its regional power.
For Ankara, being on good terms with both sides is crucial as past experience of having better relations with the KRG presented it with myriad challenges.
Turkey has gained a great opportunity to play the role of mediator, at a time when US influence in the region is declining as American allies are starting to lose confidence in the White House. Frustration toward the US administration is pushing Ankara, Baghdad and the KRG to cooperate.
Iraqi-Turkish relations deteriorated in recent years due to differences over local and regional policies, especially in Iraq and Syria. But Ankara persuaded Baghdad of its sincerity when it opposed Kurdish independence despite enjoying close relations with the KRG.
To Turkey, Iraq is not a country that can be disregarded. Any instability in Iraq, which is a key route for the oil trade, would create a vacuum that the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would not hesitate to fill. Likewise, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi needs to maintain cooperation with Ankara for the benefit of Iraq and his own political position.
Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.