Turkey’s Incursion into Northern Iraq Is Erdogan’s ‘Act of Despair’

Secular Arab regimes began to be seen as enemies by Erdogan’s Turkey. The Russian involvement in Syria made it clear for him that his goals were now much harder to achieve.

Last Thursday, Turkish troops were deployed in the north of Iraq near the ISIS-held city of Mosul in a move the Turkish government said was agreed on with the Iraqi government. However, Baghdad said it never invited such a force, which was sent to an area controlled by the autonomous government of the Iraqi Kurdistan. In an exclusive interview with Valdaiclub.com, Veniamin Popov, Director of the Center for the Partnership of Civilizations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), explained the reasons and possible ramifications of this move.

“The most amazing thing about all this is the policy of double standards,” Prof. Popov said. “On the Russian warplane downed because it was said to have violated Turkey’s air space, the Turkish authorities want to look like guardians of the international law, but at the same time they feel entitled to decide the fates of other nations with no regard for its norms”. In that, according to Popov, who was the Soviet ambassador to a number of Arab states throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey follows the lead of western nations. “But we know how it ends,” the veteran diplomat said. “The US invasion to Iraq changed the balance of forces in the entire region. Libya has not yet recovered from the NATO bombings and it is still unclear if it will survive as a unified state”.

Asked about why the Turkish government was upping the ante in Syria and Iraq, Popov said there was no clear logic behind that. “These moves can only aggravate the situation in the region,” he said. “Instead of quenching the fire, they are only fuelling the flames”.

Turkey, home to a restive Kurd minority (20 to 35% of the country’s population, according to different estimates), supports the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, which causes tensions with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. Turkey’s premier Erdogan finds himself in a very difficult situation, trying to play a double game on Kurds, Popov said.

“What Turkey is doing now is a sort of act of despair,” he said referring to Erdogan’s failed ambitions both to bring Turkey to the European Union and to become the leader of the Islamic world. Popov recalled the meeting of Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus almost a decade ago, which he characterized as “idyllic”. However it all ended in 2011, when Turkey became a staunch supporter of the “Arab spring” which was in fact about bringing Islamists to power across the Middle East. Secular Arab regimes, like that of al-Assad, began to be seen as enemies by Erdogan’s Turkey. The Russian involvement in Syria made it clear for him that his goals were now much harder to achieve, Popov said.

Asked if Iraq, where Turkey has established military presence, could invite Russia to fight ISIS, following Syria’s lead, the former Russian diplomat said that was impossible. “Americans did not fight in Iraq for Russia to come in,” he said. “It is easier for them to topple the current Iraqi government that to put up with Russian presence there.”

On Sunday, December 6, Iraq gave Turkey 48 hours to withdraw forces it said had entered the country illegally or face "all available options", including recourse to the UN Security Council.
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