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Turkey, the US and the KRG: Moving Parts and the Geopolitical Realities

In a remarkable turnaround, Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government have recently emerged as close partners in a region increasingly characterized by uncertainty. They share a discomfort with the centralizing inclinations of Baghdad’s current government, a stake in seeing an end to the PKK’s campaign of violence, and a preference for greater unity between the various forces opposing the Assad regime in Syria. Their economies are increasingly interlocked, and the KRG’s emergence as a significant producer of energy is of benefit to both parties. Furthermore, the Ankara-Erbil relationship is one that serves Washington’s regional interests and perspectives well. However, serious differences remain. Iraqi Kurds still aspire to incorporate Kirkuk, and support greater autonomy for the Kurds of Turkey and Syria too. Turkey’s support for Erbil could unintentionally help produce greater Kurdish autonomy throughout the region. This article explores some of the possible ramifications of the burgeoning Ankara-Erbil relationship.

Turkey the US and the KRG Moving Parts and the
President of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani is welcomed by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu upon his arrival at the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara.
 

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two leading Iraqi Kurdish parties that have carved up the governing of the KRG between them, recently asserted once again that the time for Kurdish self-determination might be drawing close. He cited the factional infighting in Baghdad and the disregard there of Iraq’s constitution, not least with regard to the resolution of the disputed territories around Kirkuk. A referendum in oil-rich and majority Kurdish-inhabited Kirkuk that was supposed to have been held in 2007 has been put off indefinitely by Baghdad. The expectation is that a referendum would confirm the desire of a majority of the region’s inhabitants to be incorporated into the KRG. For Barzani, Baghdad’s undemocratic, sectarian, centralizing and unconstitutional behavior were encouraging a reconsideration of the Kurdish commitment to Iraq’s territorial integrity and federative structure.1 Over the years, Barzani has repeatedly referred to his aspiration for an independent Kurdish state.2 The informal referendum held in the KRG in 2005, which produced a more than 95-percent vote in favor of independence, suggests that Barzani accurately represents Iraqi Kurdish public opinion. 

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