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Competition for influence in Iraq heats up

Posted By F. Michael Maloof On 10/26/2012 @ 8:08 pm In Front Page,World | No Comments

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WASHINGTON – Iraq’s parliament is considering a proposal that would end all treaties allowing foreign bases or military forces in the country. While at first blush the Iranian-backed regime of Shi’ite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might be aiming such action at the United States, it is meant to deal with Tehran’s competitor in the region, Turkey, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

While the U.S. may introduce special operations forces in Iraq for training missions, the Turks want to establish bases in northern Iraq, which is predominantly Kurdish.

Not only does Turkey have designs on northern Iraq’s oil resources, Ankara wants to have its own bases to gather intelligence to be able to strike against Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, members who increasingly are launching raids into Turkey.

Turkey also may want to use the bases to strike PKK camps which are located in the Qandil Mountains near the Iraq-Iran border.

But Turkey may have an ulterior motive in focusing on the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Ankara has been working with Masoud Barzani who is president of the Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, which in turn has been in increasing disputes with Baghdad.

Coincidentally, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, a Sunni, also is from northern Iraq. He was founder and secretary general of one of the main Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and is a major advocate for Kurdish rights.

The growing sense in Iraq is that Turkey wants to split northern Iraq with its Kurdish concentration from the rest of Iraq to gain a foothold there to prevent the PKK from attempting to establish an independent state of Kurdistan incorporating northern Iraq, northern Syria and Iran and southern Turkey.

The Kurds believe that given the instability in Syria and the increasing pressure Iraq is undergoing from Saudi Arabia to get the Sunnis there to rise up against al-Maliki’s Iranian-backed government, they have the best opportunity that they’ve had in years to try.

It’s also to Iran’s interest that Iraq attempt to limit Sunni Turkey’s efforts to extend its regional influence. That could satisfy Saudi Arabia’s interest in ousting the Shi’ite al-Maliki government in favor of reestablishing a Sunni government in Baghdad.

It also would have the effect of dampening Turkey’s efforts to reassert its influence from the Mediterranean to Central Asia, reminiscent of the old Ottoman Empire, which remains vivid in the memories of the countries in the region.

To upset Turkey’s plans, Syria and Iran have decided to “unleash” the Kurds in an effort to create more internal turmoil in Turkey. Given its large Kurdish minority, Ankara then would be forced to look inward and put off its efforts to reassert itself in the same regions Iran has been cultivating for centuries with the spread of Shi’ism influence.

In recent days, Baghdad wants officials in the autonomous Kurdistan region to allow the deployment of troops to curb Turkish efforts to send its own troops in to Iraq and to halt its ongoing air strikes into northern Iraq against PKK strongholds. There was a prior agreement between Baghdad and Ankara in effect that allows Turkey to launch airstrikes and send in its troops to attack the PKK strongholds.

Meantime, Kurdish groups from Syria, northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey recently were in Paris to discuss a strategy to obtain Kurdish statehood.

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