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HomeExpertsStrategic Tensions and Diplomatic Manoeuvres: Navigating the Ankara-Bağdat-Erbil-Washington Axis

Strategic Tensions and Diplomatic Manoeuvres: Navigating the Ankara-Bağdat-Erbil-Washington Axis

We are in days of critical meetings and significant negotiations along the Washington-Ankara-Baghdad, and Erbil line, with every step taken affecting parties in all four capitals.

Especially the visits to Iraq by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan, the Head of National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Ibrahim Kalin, and the Minister of National Defence Yaşar Güler indicate the beginning of a new era. Amid these critical visits, Ankara also keeps an eye on the US Congress…

We are entering the last two days of negotiations for the F-16 sale and modernization deal that have been ongoing for two years. The Biden administration initiated the sales process and sent the agreement to the US Congress concurrently with Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership.

According to US laws, if Congress does not object to the agreement within two weeks, the process will be completed. The deadline is the evening of February 9. So, we are in the final stage.

While Ankara holds its breath waiting for these two days to pass, it received unwelcome news from Washington. Republican Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill to block the sale of F-16s to Turkey.

If other senators join Senator Paul, the agreement could be jeopardized at the last minute. However, it is not expected that Senator Paul’s move will stall the process. For Paul to succeed, other senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee must also support the bill.

Biden’s ‘Greece’ Move Committee Chairman Ben Cardin had already approved the sale of F-16s to Turkey. Moreover, no objections have come from the relevant committee of the House of Representatives concerning the agreement.

Frankly, it’s unlikely that the declaration submitted to Congress by the Biden administration on January 25th will be thwarted in the last two days. Because the Biden administration had included the F-35 sales to Greece in the same package to prevent Congress from sabotaging the process.

With this diplomatic maneuver, the White House prevented possible roadblocks. In short, by Friday, we will reach the end of the F-16 sales and modernization process to Turkey.

Can this situation thaw the ice between Turkey and the US and start a new era?

Although there seems to be such an intention on the US side, in practice, it’s not that easy. Because there is a serious trust issue between the two countries, and moreover, the US side has not made any changes on controversial issues.

The US’s strikes on Iran targets in Syria and Iraq, raising tensions in the Middle East, have brought Turkey’s strategic position back into the spotlight, but it’s important to remember that the US is in an election year, and the coming months will be very challenging for Biden.

Frankly, in such a critical period, it’s unlikely that Biden would open a new front or take radical steps.

So, what will Ankara do?

Turkey is also in an election year, but the conditions are very different from the US. Erdogan is comfortably heading to the elections with his now institutionalized ‘one-man’ regime. Especially with the GOOD Party and the DEM Party fielding candidates in Istanbul, Erdogan is at an advantage.

After the local elections, a four-year period without elections begins. For the Erdogan regime, this will be a productive time to accomplish its agenda.

‘Electoral Index’ North Iraq Traffic Increases Recently, there has been abnormal traffic on the Ankara-Baghdad and Erbil line.

MIT Head Ibrahim Kalin went to Iraq twice within a week, followed by National Defence Minister Yaşar Güler and Chief of General Staff General Metin Gürak. Comprehensive meetings were held with both the central government and the North Iraq administration.

Naturally, the intelligence and military-heavy composition of these delegations brings to mind an operation against the PKK. It’s no secret that Iraqi intelligence officials frequently visit Ankara and hold meetings with both MIT and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In other words, something is brewing.

When it comes to Turkey-Iraq relations, oil pipelines and water disputes are always on the table, but it’s worth noting that the recent contacts have been centered around the PKK.

So, what’s coming?

Firstly, it should be noted; for Erdogan, the Kurdish issue has always been about elections. Whether negotiating under the guise of an opening or during the destructive combat phase, his goal has always been electoral. So, we can say the same rule applies now.

Erdogan needs to win the elections, especially in Istanbul, and then dominate the agenda for a long time. The state of the economy is clear. It will become even more unmanageable after the election. So, for Erdogan, simply surviving the election is not enough; he must continue to govern the country with an iron fist.

What if things don’t go as planned? In such cases, the ideal scenario is a conflict environment. An operation across the border will postpone all agendas that could trouble the Palace. After all, the lives lost are those of poor Anatolian youths. Martyrs are not an issue for Erdogan.

However, another situation that could jeopardize Erdogan’s plans and concern Ankara exists. Proxy groups in the Middle East are stronger than ever. Erdogan’s operations in Iraq and Syria could receive unexpected responses.

Therefore, the Iran factor should not be overlooked. Could Ankara’s latest moves be interpreted as a message to Iran, saying ‘I won’t leave the region to you’? Would Iran allow Turkey to conduct operations in areas it controls? How will America view the Ankara-Baghdad-Erbil rapprochement, and to what extent will it allow operations? These are questions with no clear answers, problems.

The actions taken by PKK and ISIS in Turkey lately demonstrate their operational capabilities. We are in an environment where the borders are porous, and it’s unclear who is who.

Not only international mafia groups but also terrorist organizations have made Turkey their home. The recent church attack is a thought-provoking example in every aspect.

In short; Erdogan plans another cross-border operation entirely for domestic political goals, but things may not go as planned. While trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat, Erdogan could also open the door to a bloody period that he cannot control.

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Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Aslan is a leading Turkish investigative journalist in exile based in Washington, D.C.
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