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From Distance to Engagement: Turkish Policy towards the Middle East, Iraq and Iraqi Kurds

Turkey’s Middle East policy has witnessed revolutionary changes since 1999. The changes in the attitude of Turkey towards the region can be easily grasped by examining its policy towards Iraq. Today Ankara is an active player in the region using non-military means of diplomacy, such as economic tools and international conferences. This paper analyzes the changes in Turkish foreign policy towards Iraq through a framework of processes, means and outcomes. The article covers approximately the last ten years and looks at three turning points that triggered change. These turning points are the capture of the PKK leader Öcalan in 1999, Turkey’s refusal to allow the transfer of US soldiers to Iraq in March 2003, and the Turkish responses to the PKK attack on the Aktütün military post on the Turkish-Iraqi border in October 2008. The article contends that as a result of the transformations in Turkey’s foreign policy, it has become an indispensable actor in Middle Eastern politics.

From Distance to Engagement Turkish Policy towards the Middle East
 

The United States does not really have any grand foreign policy strategy towards the Kurds because they live in four separate states (Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria), each one of which requires its own separate considerations. What is more, the states in which the Kurds live are more important for U.S. foreign policy than the Kurds themselves, and the Kurds cause problems for the United States when dealing with these more important states. Nevertheless, given its interest in Middle East stability as well as human rights, the United States has come to accept that it does owe the Kurds a certain amount of attention and even protection. This is true especially in Iraq, given that the Iraqi Kurds supported the United States in the 2003 war against Saddam Hussein when states such as Turkey did not. 

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