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Iran, Turkey vying for influence in Iraq

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WASHINGTON – As Turkey’s Kurdish problem becomes more serious, Ankara is looking to the Kurdish area of northern Iraq not only to help contain the attacks originating there, but also to increase its military presence as a way of impeding Iran’s growing influence, said a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The attacks have been by the militant Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.

Turkish troops in southern Turkey are coming under increasing attack from the PKK, which then seeks refuge back in northern Iraq. In turn, Turkey has been launching airstrikes against PKK positions in northern Iraq.

Turkey doesn’t intend to launch ground forces, since the PKK is in mountainous areas that give their guerrilla tactics an advantage over conventional Turkish forces.

However, Ankara wants to set up bases in northern Iraq from which it can gain information and then act on it before PKK guerrilla launch attacks into Turkey.

As of now, there are some 2,000 Turkish troops and some tanks and helicopters in the area now.

While such an approach is to head off future attacks, it could give Turkey a military presence in northern Iraq that concerns Tehran.

Turkey backs northern Iraq’s current president of the Kurdistan Regional government against the PKK.

However, the departure of the United States from Iraq has opened up the prospect of competition between Ankara and Tehran for influence in the area. Tehran’s own influence in neighboring Iraq has increased considerably with the departure of U.S. forces and the election of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

However, Iran doesn’t want to push Turkey into any potential confrontation, even though they are competing with each other for influence in Iraq.

With Iran’s own PKK problem, however, Tehran wants to work with Turkey on this common issue and other regional matters such as Syria.

Turkey also sees an economic competitive opportunity in northern Iraq where there are vast reserves of oil which Ankara desperately needs. Similarly, Iran also has economic interests which it wants to pursue.

However, sources believe that given the deep-seated economic relationship that Turkey already has fostered in northern Iraq, it could achieve an advantage.

Last June, Turkey visited Arbil, Iraq, and agreed to build a power plant in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. It is part of a Turkish effort to expand northern Iraq’s energy infrastructure.

Turkey’s interest in working with the Kurdish regional government has placed it in competition with the Iraqi central government. Turkey’s interest in energy development in the northern region already is attracting foreign oil companies, since Iraq has placed considerable obstacles in their way in investing in Iraq’s own oil development.

In vying for influence in Iraq over Iran, Turkey will be looking to the Sunnis for help against the Shi’ite Baghdad government which is in an increasing conflict with the Sunnis.

Inside Iraq, the Sunnis are looking for outside help from Turkey as well as the United States in standing up to the al-Maliki’s Shi’ite government. Analysts say, however, that their influence with the Shi’ite Baghdad government is not as influential as that of Iran. Indeed, al-Maliki is looking to Iran to provide help against the Sunnis. For Iran, it will be a balancing act, since Iran doesn’t want to go too far against the Sunnis.

Tehran needs to have decent relations with the Iraqi Sunnis to have influence over the Sunnis in Syria where Iran is seeking to preserve the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also a Shi’ite but from the Alawite clan offshoot.

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