Iraq was an equation with three unknowns. After the withdrawal of the US, one of the unknowns in this equation was resolved, leaving two parameters to compete with each other. Still, Iraq will be divided into three parts. The division of a country into three parts rather than two increases the number of the possible combinations by two or three times.
Three parts may be divided into two sections together with two-item groups. The Kurds may be considered potential allies of Arab Sunnis because they too are Sunni. Sunni Arabs are of a similar ethnic background as the Shiites. This means Iraq has already been divided into two major parts in ethnic and religious terms as well. In consideration of the ethnic and religious diversities, Iraq is being partitioned into three parts.
The distinction between Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs caused by ethnic and religious division is open to sub-alliances. At the beginning of the American occupation, there was Arab solidarity against the Kurds. Today, the Kurds have withdrawn from this polarization, leaving the Arabs in two opposing camps as Shiites and Sunnis. The Kurds are not involved in the bitter competition as Iraq is being partitioned into three parts.
An entirely different outlook is emerging; an outlook different from the one as predicted in 2003. The most significant outcome of the longstanding American occupation is the increased Iranian influence in the Middle East. The emergence of the Iranian impact via the Shiite card in Iraq takes the Kurds to the side of Turkey. Turkey will not be able to prevent the dissolution of Iraq; but it can support the Sunni and Kurdish Iraq vis-à-vis the growing Iranian influence.
There is another concrete result of the American venture in Iraq: the strategic cooperation between northern Iraq and Turkey. The Kurdish administration in northern Iraq depends on Turkey for its survival. And Turkey has to support and protect northern Iraq against the growing Iranian influence in the region.
The new balances in the aftermath of the occupation in Iraq offer something good to Turkey: the Kurdish issue and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism issue are being resolved because the interests of the Kurdish administration in the north and Turkey’s ability to address the Iranian threat require this. The increased support by the US against the PKK is normal. What really matters is the extraordinary effort by Massoud Barzani to stop the PKK. In this way, a Kurdistan is being created next to Turkey under its protection.
The other thing that contributes to the resolution of the Kurdish issue is the domestic warfare in Syria. Iran is winning in southern Iraq, but it is losing in Syria. And the PKK is also losing in Syria. The Syrian administration is not in a position to escalate PKK terrorism and offer protection for it against Turkey. The disappearing Syrian support and its isolation in northern Iraq means that the PKK will be further alienated.
This shows that Turkey has a great opportunity to resolve the Kurdish issue. The Turkish state has a pragmatic character as transferred through the political experience of the Ottoman Empire. It may resolve the issue that it cannot by violent measures by reliance on peaceful means. Talks carried out under mediation by Barzani show that this method has made visible progress.
Who is winning while Iraq is being partitioned? The longstanding delicate balances in the Middle East do not allow one party to win all. Turkey is winning Syria whereas Iran is winning southern Iraq. But most importantly, Turkey is catching the opportunity to resolve its own Kurdish problem.
MÜMTAZER TÜRKÖNE, firstname.lastname@example.org