[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
When U.S. President George W. Bush announced his surge strategy in Iraq, which was based on an increase in the number of American troops deployed in Baghdad and Anbar provinces, on January 10, 2007, very few people were optimistic about its success. Well, I was among that minority. I had never been a supporter of the war, but had also believed that, once it started, the United States should not go home without leaving behind a stable Iraq.
In my piece dated January 13, 2007, published in the Turkish daily Referans, I wrote that the surge could well be helpful to stabilize Iraq and thus it should not be dismissed out of hand. ”The best thing for Turkey right now,” I concluded, ”is to pray that Bush’s new strategy works, and helps bridging the bitter division between Sunnis and Shiites.”
I don’t think that the Turkish Foreign Ministry gets, or even needs, advice from me, but apparently, as the Turkish saying goes, the way of reason is one. Ankara indeed has worked for the reconciliation of Iraq’s rival groups, and has seen that its prayers came true: Iraq is not doing really badly these days.
Davutoğlu on Iraq
The other day, I had the chance to get comments on this from the two key architects of Ankara’s Iraq policy: Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu, the chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Ambassador Oğuz Çelikkol, Turkey’s special envoy to Iraq. They both noted that Iraq is in a much more hopeful situation then it was two years ago. ”Then, we used to worry that the country was on the brink of a civil war and dismemberment,” reminded Ambassador Çelikkol. ”Today, although there are still problems, the violence decreased dramatically and the belief that Iraq will remain united is strong.”
Prof. Davutoğlu added to those comments, but first me remind who he is. Until 2002, he used to be an erudite scholar of foreign policy, and perhaps the most respected one in the conservative camp. When the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in that year, he was appointed as the top policy advisor to the prime minister, a post which gave him the chance to implement his academic vision to actual policy. He believes in a Turkey which has a ”strategic depth,” a one that will be a regional power, with ”zero problem with neighbors,” and through ”economic inter-dependency” in the former Ottoman lands. And since 2002, that is Turkish foreign policy in a nutshell.
Some have accused Prof. Davutoğlu to be an Islamist and to try to turn Turkey’s orientation toward the Middle East, rather the West. The Hamas meeting he organized right after the Islamic group’s winning of Palestinian elections was shown as the evidence. But as Dr. Davutoğlu told to the Economist, which described him as “the visionary behind Turkey’s newly assertive foreign policy,” Turkey’s aim was to persuade Hamas to recognize Israel. It apparently didn’t work, but intentions are as important as results.
Since Prof. Davutoğlu is labeled by some as an ”Islamist,” I was careful to see what he would say about Iraq and its insurgents. And I found a very anti-Al Qaeda stance. “The Al Qaeda is the major source of violence in Iraq,” said Dr. Davutoğlu, and emphasized the terrorist group’s Wahhabi and Salafi base, which he carefully distinguished from the peaceful Sunni tradition of the country. He also noted that the stance taken by Iraq’s Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda terrorists has been a very positive step toward minimizing this foreign intrusion. Ambassador Çelikkol added that Turkey has played a role in the settling of the Shiites and Sunnis of Iraq. “Both sides trust us,” he said, “and we have done our best.”
What about Turkey’s biggest question vis-à-vis Iraq, i.e., the Kurds? On this matter, the two Turkish policy makers sounded optimistic, too. “The Kurdish authority in Iraq is more realistic today than it was two years ago,” said Ambassador Çelikkol. ”They realize that their future is in Iraq, and that have to give up some of their maximalist demands.” Both him and Dr. Davutoğlu also noted that there are steps taken toward reconciliation between Kurds or Turkmens over Kirkuk, which Turkey is pleased to support. If Iraqi President Jalal Talabani comes to Turkey soon, as news suggest, the Turko-Kurdish rapprochement will be vindicated.
All this suggests that the critically low point in Turkey’s relationship with its southern neighbor, and the United States which still has a role in the latter’s destiny, has passed. Since the surge Iraq is doing better, and Turkey is happy about it — something that the next U.S. president, whomever he or she will be, must be aware of.