Asia-Pacific, Iran, Turkey, Politics

Turkey and Iran: Friends in Misery

A common enemy is all it takes sometimes. Turkey and Iran are opposing forces in the Middle-East region. However, they may have finally found some common ground in the Kurdish movement for independence in northern Iraq.

The Kurds are a residing force in the region, spanning over multiple countries in what is known as Kurdistan. The portion of them residing in northern Iraq in an autonomous region recently gained land and decided in favor of an independent state. This movement was met with opposition, mainly out of Turkey, Iran, and the Central Iraq Government. The concerns of Baghdad are straightforward, as losing a considerable portion of the country would probably destroy the Iraqi state, especially considering the vast oil reserves they’d lose in the process. Turkey and Iran fear an independent Kurdish state could promote similar motions in their own countries.

Especially Turkey has a lot of Kurdish citizens and has been engaged in an ongoing conflict with militant groups like the PKK, fighting for independence. Faced with the referendum in north Iraq, both nations fear an independent state could cause an uprising and similar movements outside of Iraq.

Turkey and Iran: Military Threats

The result was a display of military power on both sides of the affected region, with Iran and Turkey displaying troops at their border threatening the Kurds with possible military intervention should an independent state be declared. Regardless of military presence, an attack is unlikely at this point. Especially since Masoud Barzani said, he would not necessarily announce independence immediately after, which he didn’t. However, the vote in favor was a strong signal and reinforced patriotism among Kurds. One has to bear in mind that the Kurd’s army in Iraq, the Peshmerga, is 275,000 strong and could potentially count on support from the autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, the Rojava, in case of an attack coordinated by Turkey and Iran. Coupled with the fact that the armies of both nations are not as strong as they used to be. The Turkish army is still suffering from the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup d’etat in 2016 and would probably see even more losses if it were to engage in another war.

Kurdish Isolation

Instead of war, the leaders left and right of north Iraq will continue to isolate the region economically. The Central Kurdish Government in Iraq relies heavily on imports from both nations, as they have not yet build a self-sufficient infrastructure. If you compare them to their Rojava neighbors, the Kurds in northern Iraq have set the wrong priorities. The north of Iraq has significant oil resources, which made them invest heavily in the oil industry and dependent from Turkey, which is their gate to international trade and the primary source of income. The low oil price has already dealt them significant blows, but a blockage of necessary goods that are usually imported from Iran and Turkey could pose a severe threat to the area and its people.

The Rojava, on the contrary, have built an actual infrastructure and can produce essential goods on their own. Compared to them, Mousad Barzani and his government have made their people vulnerable, which could be costly now that the referendum is through. It may be worth to mention that Barzani was officially elected, but already served his second term, making him an illegitimate leader. National elections will be held in early November, and he will not be able to candidate again. However, his party will benefit from the referendum results and his sons are potentially there to continue his legacy.

We Have to Wait and See

But even the scenario of permanent isolation, if more likely, may not come true in the end. While the Kurds of northern Iraq depend on Turkey, Turkey also depends on them regarding oil. Turkey may have announced they will nullify agreements with the Kurds to begin trade with the Centralized Iraqi Government in Baghdad instead, but if that is feasible is highly questionable.

The tensions are rising, and we may see an increase in those by the end of the year. It all depends on the outcome of the general election and what the first actions of the newly elected government will be.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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