Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put his “good neighbor” foreign policy up for reassessment. None of the neighbors are inclined to buy his political wares and multiple dangers are fast creeping up on Turkey’s borders and his credibility at home.
Erdogan was already in hot water with Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf emirates over his script for a Middle East Sunni Pan-Islamic bloc led by Turkey, and his only real ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, had just been thrown out by Egypt and Qatar.
This week, trouble piled up on four fronts: Syria, the Kurds, the Syrian Kurds allied with the separatist Turkish Kurdish PKK, and the home front, from the Gezi Park protest movement and police violence.
The Syrian front is bringing the Al Qaeda peril closer than ever to the Turkish border in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) and Al Qaeda in Iraq (which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
No matter which way he turns, the Turkish prime minister faces insurmountable problems.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources in Ankara report that his order to military leaders and intelligence agencies for a policy reassessment covers existing policies and military deployments on the Syrian and Iraq borders.
Peace package with the Kurdish PKK is falling apart
This reassessment may be no more than a bureaucratic gimmick to buy the Turkish leader time during which some of his difficulties will sort themselves out. But it may be a major revamp of foreign policy and military strategy for the purpose of sealing Turkey off from Syria and Iraq.
The latter may be imperative in view of at least three pressing military and political woes besetting Ankara at this time:
1. The peace package the Turkish prime minister fashioned with the separatist PKK insurgent movement, as a vehicle for lifting him to the presidency in the 2014 election, is coming apart.
Thursday Aug. 16 he accused the PKK of breaking its promise to pull its fighters off Turkish soil. “Only 20 percent have left Turkey, and they are mostly women and children,” he said.
This put Erdogan in a cleft stick: He must decide now whether or not to interrupt Turkey’s parliamentary recess and push through the ratification of his “democratization package” for granting Turkish Kurds (one-fifth of the total population of 77 million) partial national rights and recognize their language. This was supposed to be the quid pro quo for the PKK’s withdrawal.
PKK leaders vehemently deny Erdogan’s allegation. In a statement Monday Aug. 19, they insisted “Our forces have followed the withdrawal decision to the letter and the implementation process is continuing.”
Iran seeks to plant a Kurdish proxy against Turkey
Whichever claim is correct matters less than the new and menacing Kurdish entanglement disclosed here by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources.
Iranian agents have penetrated PKK strongholds in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, as well as the ranks of the Kurdish fighters retreating from Turkey. Those fighters are being offered Iranian cash and weapons for stealing back into Turkey through Iraq and Syria.
The Turkish prime minister must conceal this dangerous development from the public eye at all costs because it means that Tehran has turned the Kurdish tables on Ankara and is developing a secret proxy force capable of mounting a clandestine Iranian war inside Turkey without being exposed as the aggressor.
2. The Kurds on the Syrian side of the border have been engaged in fierce battles for the past three weeks over control of Syrian-Turkish border areas.
The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party – the PYD – which is tied to the Turkish PKK, is fighting to fend off the assaults of two jihadist militias – Al Qaeda-Syria and Al Qaeda-Iraq, and demanding artillery and air cover from Ankara to keep the jihadists at bay. Both want a foothold on the Turkish border.
Our sources in Ankara say Erdogan hasn’t yet decided which is worse – a concentration of Kurdish PKK militiamen on his border, or a large pack of Al Qaeda fighters.
A grand scheme for getting rid of Iraq’s Nuri al Maliki
3. In DEBKA Weekly 598 of Aug. 2, we revealed a recent pact concluded by Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) to establish a Kurdish republic in Syria. This was part of a comprehensive military, political and financial cooperation understanding, in pursuance of which the KRG president Massoud Barzani made a special trip to Ankara.
Beset by ongoing obstacles, this grand design has been put on a back burner to make way for another new scheme which may eventually offer solutions.
It comes in the form of an ad hoc coalition, which DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal is secretly in the making, between the US, Turkey, Iraqi Kurds, and the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, for the common goal of getting rid of Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shiite prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
As a first step, the seriously ailing, 80-year old Kurdish leader Jalal Talaban would be replaced as President of Iraq by Massoud Barzani. The presidency of the Kurdish Republic would pass to Massoud’s son, Nechiervan Barzani, who has the trust of the Americans and the Turks.
Western and Arab intelligence pundits all agree that Maliki’s days are numbered with no chance of his winning the March 2014 general election.
Eight months hence, therefore, a new coalition government can be installed in Baghdad composed of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions opposed to Iran’s growing influence in the Iraqi capital.
The devil is in the timeline
The backers of this scheme have picked a future prime minister: he is the incumbent oil minister, Abdul Karim Luaibi Bahedh, a 59-year-old Shiite, who is no friend to Tehran and close to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
This radical turnaround in Baghdad would suit the books of the US, Turkey and the Gulf Emirates in that it would make it possible to seal Iraq’s borders with Syria and Turkey against the traffic nourishing Bashar Assad – fighters, wads of cash and weapons – and deny al Qaeda access from Iraq to both countries.
Its biggest snag, say our experts, is the length of its timeline.
Any planning reaching eight months into the future cannot expect to survive full term in the volatile Middle East – not least when no one in Washington, Ankara or Irbil has any notion of how Tehran will react.