It is no secret that Turkey supports the Syrian opposition and clearly opposes the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This means Turkey has decided to limit Iran’s sphere of influence, making the latter quite nervous. Despite Turkey’s position on Syria, Tehran has not cut dialogue with Ankara completely because Iran does not want to be obliged to cooperate only with Russia and China. Turkey does not want its relations with Iran to deteriorate completely, either, regardless of the fact that these two countries are in some kind of competition with one another.
Syria appears to have become one of the battlefields in this competition; however, things have evolved differently there. Turkey insists on including international organizations and other powers in the resolution of the Syrian conflict. In other words, it prefers to not intervene alone, avoiding facing Iran directly. By the way, negotiations between the great powers have occupied the entire agenda, and the Syrian conflict has become something much bigger than a simple disagreement between Turkey and Iran.
At the same time, Iraq has appeared as a new battlefield. The domestic balances are quite fragile in this country, which is divided between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, from the country’s Shiite community, perceives Turkey as an enemy and claims that Ankara supports non-Shiite groups and is damaging Iraq’s territorial integrity. In other words, Maliki is convinced that Turkey is playing an active role in the ongoing struggle between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and believes that Turkey opposes Iran’s interests in all circumstances.
However, it is known that Turkey’s concerns about the Middle East are mostly related to the Kurdish problem and to the actions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It is not surprising, then, that those who want to pull Turkey into the disagreements in the Middle East often use the PKK as a tool.
Turkey recently made clear what it is planning to do if Syria tries to manipulate the PKK: military retaliation, closing of the border or establishing a buffer zone. As for Iraq, we have witnessed a historic breakthrough: Turkey and Massoud Barzani have declared they will work together against the terrorist organization. This agreement reduces considerably the possibility for third actors to take advantage of the Kurdish problem against Turkey.
Turkey now needs for Iran and its sponsors to allow tension over the Syrian and Iraqi issues to ease because if the present tension persists, we may even see changes to borders in the region. Nevertheless, Turkey has for some time been giving the impression that it is no longer afraid of border modifications -- or, to put it more concretely, of the secession of northern Iraq. Indeed, if Syria also disintegrates, Turkey has no reason to antagonize the new states that may emerge from this country’s territory.
This is why Turkey now insists that the ongoing tension is more costly to the Shiite axis and that future developments may only disrupt the relations between Shiite groups in Iraq and Syria with Iran. Maybe this is why Maliki is so angry with Turkey these days.
Even if the existing regimes change and current leaders are toppled, the peoples of the Middle East will continue to live side by side. Keeping this fact in mind will help politicians not make the same mistakes while making their decisions.