October 10, 2016
In a region characterized by conflict, “zero problems with neighbors” was not even an illusion. It was a misguided public relations stunt which boomeranged becoming an embarrassment for Turkish diplomacy.
In recent years, Turkey’s relations with Israel, Syria, Egypt, Russia and the US have experienced fluctuations ranging from friction and tension to rupture. Despite recent steps towards reconciliation they still do. And now, we are quarreling with Iraq. The immediate problem is the Turkish military presence there.
Last Tuesday, Iraq’s Parliament called on Turkey to pull her estimated 2,000 troops out of areas across northern Iraq. This was a response to Turkish Parliament’s decision to extend their presence for another year to take on “terrorist organizations” meaning ISIL and the PKK. Thus, the past week witnessed an exchange of accusations and strongly worded statements. Turkish side claims that the now famous “Bashiqa camp” was set up with the full knowledge of the Iraqi Government to train local forces fighting ISIL in that area, that Baghdad officials had visited the camp and had even given financial support to it in the past. In response, Baghdad underlines its sovereignty over Iraqi territory and insists on withdrawal. It is clear that the two sides do not and will not agree on how exactly this camp was established and functioned. But, they do need to avoid further escalation in order not to undermine the battle against terrorists. The first step would be to avoid rhetoric. Since Turkish troops are on Iraqi territory, Ankara needs to lead de-escalation. Saying that Iraq has “overstepped the mark”, the decision of the Iraqi Parliament is “absurd”, “it does not reflect the views of the majority of Iraqi people” does not serve Turkey’s interests. Neither do the newspaper headlines which label every criticism of Turkey as an act of “insolence”.
In the context of these hostile exchanges some have referred to Turkey’s right to legitimate self-defense and article 51 of the UN Charter. The article reads as follows:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” (emphasis added)
There is no information so far suggesting that Ankara has done this. Even if it were to do it, its arguments risk not being listened to with great understanding because of the government’s relentless bashing of the Security Council.
And, this is what Secretary Kerry said in a recently leaked audio:
“The problem is the Russians don’t care about international law and we do. And we don’t have a basis, our lawyers tell us, unless we have a Security Council resolution.”
“They were invited in, we were not,” he added, referring to Moscow’s military operations in Syria.
The underlying reason for the Bashiqa dispute is Baghdad’s failure to embrace all Iraqis regardless of their religious affiliation and Turkey’s emergence as a member of the “Sunni bloc” determined to overthrow the Assad regime. (As a matter of fact, the purges directed at Iraq’s Sunnis date back to the invasion of Iraq and Paul Bremer’s edicts on de-Baathification and consecutive Iraqi governments have done very little, if anything, to alleviate their impact.) Ankara now wants to prevent the Shiite militias from entering Mosul but this shouldn’t be the subject of a public controversy. There is already enough worry not only about the Mosul operation but also its aftermath. Other countries are equally aware of the risks involved. Americans are saying that the governance plan will rely on the existing political institutions and that the provincial councils and governors will be empowered. So, Ankara needs to combine efforts with others rather than burning bridges. And finally, one should admit that the recent criticism directed at the Lausanne Peace Treaty by the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the references to the loss of Mosul in that context have no doubt caused some consternation in Baghdad.
Beyond Bashiqa and Mosul, Turkey needs to stop acting like a member of the Sunni bloc. She needs to promote secular policies for the entire region because there is no other way to break out of the current sectarian vicious circle. Our relations with Saudi Arabia may at times reflect a certain commonality of interests but the Kingdom cannot become Ankara’s one and only friend in the world. We need many more. Turkey probably was the first country to criticize the bill which cleared the way for families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to file claims against Saudi Arabia for the Kingdom’s long-rumored but unproven links to the 9/11 attackers. A contradiction when looked at in the light of the accusations Ankara levels against other countries for their support to terrorist organizations targeting Turkey. And, despite thousands dead and hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation, the Turkish Government always claiming to be “on the side of the oppressed” remains silent on Yemen.
At present Turkey lacks a coherent foreign policy. But the least Ankara can do is to stop engaging in rhetoric and bravado against the world. Because, this eliminates every opportunity for quiet and result oriented diplomacy long forgotten by Ankara.