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Rethinking Turkey-Iraq Relations: The Dilemma of Partial Cooperation

In Rethinking Turkey-Iraq Relations, Kumral explores the Saadabad Pact of 1937, the defense pact of 1955, the fall of the Pro-western Iraqi monarchy in 1958, the Gulf war in 1991 and the Iraq war in 2003, to highlight, explore and recognize the contextual, ontological, rhetorical and political consequences of cooperation and non-cooperation between Turkey and Iraq.


In every context, more cooperation rather than less is the best way to arrive at an unparalleled solution. Historically, relations between Turkey and Iraq have been characterized by ‘up and down syndrome’ through many episodes, especially in the context of cooperation discourse. In Rethinking Turkey-Iraq Relations, Kumral explores the Saadabad Pact of 1937, the defense pact of 1955, the fall of the Pro-western Iraqi monarchy in 1958, the Gulf war in 1991 and the Iraq war in 2003, to highlight, explore and recognize the contextual, ontological, rhetorical and political consequences of cooperation and non-cooperation between Turkey and Iraq. Readers who are engaged with the study of Turkey and Iraq’s cooperation and non-cooperation-based history will recognize the study’s discussions and arguments, which, at best, emphasize different narratives.

In Rethinking Turkey-Iraq Relations: The Dilemma of Partial Cooperation, Kumral explores the dilemma of partial cooperation between Turkey and Iraq. He examines the transformative and intertwined relations based on historical and historiographical evidence, claiming that despite the cooperation between the two countries on the level of politics, trade, oil-water and socio-cultural matters, the reality on the ground has remained contentious because of the wars and areas of non-cooperation, especially the Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Kumral divides the book into seven chapters; four chapters focus in depth on critical periods in Turkey-Iraq relations, such as the inter-war era (1914-39), the early Cold War (1946-60), the post-Cold War era (1991-2001) and the post 9/11 (2002-12) periods.

In the first chapter, Kumral presents a “theoretical and empirical outline” to point out the main gist of the theoretical and historical implications of Turkey-Iraq relations. By focusing on the historical relations between Turkey and Iraq, Kumral seeks to find out the main rational reasons behind the dynamics, and presents arguments about current and future relations between the two nations. In the introductory section, Kumral shows how Turkey and Iraq have faced turbulent and stormy problems by presenting episodes of cooperation and non-cooperation. Kumral addresses the multi-dimensional relationship between Turkey and Iraq through four theoretical perspectives: realism, neo-realism, structuralism and constructivism. He examines the Baghdad pact as a dynamic, realist fact of Turkey-Iraq relations; whereas in his discussion of the Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq he employs the tools of neo-realism, structuralism and constructivism to identify non-cooperation and conduct an empirical analysis of Turkey-Iraq relations.

To contextualize the periods of partial cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, in the second chapter, Kumral describes the ‘Saadabad Pact’ of 1937, which was a great symbol of transforming the peaceful relations between two nations. Kumral argues that this Pact provides a great image with which to check and balance Turkey’s relation with Iraq. The contextual-discursive analysis shows, as Kumral highlights, that Turkey’s main purpose was to live up to the agreement to unconditionally cooperate with the pro-Turkey government in Baghdad. This chapter also divides Turkey and Iraq’s partial and transformative cooperation into three phases: pre-event, event and post-event. In the pre-event section, Kumral analyzes Turkey’s foreign policy, correctly employing the “resolution of Mosul disputes between the Mudros Ceasefire Agreement in 1918 and the Trilateral (Turkey-Britain-Iraq) Border Agreement in 1926” (p. 37) to relocate the context of Turkey’s foreign policy making and partial cooperation with Iraq. Kumral discusses how and why this agreement marked the direction of Turkey’s balanced foreign policy to identify the territorial borders between 1918 and 1926. He also articulates the timely role played by Turkey’s foreign policy makers in the global balancing game with Russia, Britain and France. By identifying the main issues of the Mosul disputes, Kumral evaluates how territorial and ethnic issues, including oil, demarcated the chief dimensions of the relationship, the principal concern for Turkey being the need to identify its own Iraq policy and narratives about the Kurdish question. In the event section, Kumral describes how Turkey struggled to enact any agreement while it was not a member of the League of Nations (LN). Additionally, the author shows how Britain’s allies, including France and Italy, were against any kind of Turkish policy; the Mosul issue is a great example. Kumral also describes why this event only led to a short period of partial cooperation between Turkey and Iraq because of the fall of the pro-Turkey regime in Iraq.

Identifying the second phase of cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, Kumral emphasizes how the emergence of the Central Treaty Organization of 1955, originally known as the Baghdad Pact or the Middle East Treaty Organization, played a central role in distinguishing Turkey’s Iraq policy in the early Cold War. Here Kumral specifically interprets how defense cooperation operated as a contextual reason for boosting the new relations between Turkey and Iraq to check Soviet expansionism in the region. Kumral inquires whether Turkey needs to adopt a more neutral position or to continue its regional influence to act in an organized way with its Western allies, i.e. to be a member of NATO. Kumral explains that, in the global balancing game, Turkey has preferred to work with Iraq to balance its regional status quo, although, in a post-event period such as post-Baghdad Pact, Turkey could not read the revolution and regime change in Iraq, which prompted the onset of (non) cooperative relations between Ankara and Baghdad. By analyzing this period, Kumral critically argues, beyond the anti-Communist issue, that Turkey could have set up more friendly relations by establishing the Turkey-Iraq pipeline. He also mentions that supporting cultural cooperation toward Iraqi society, especially among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, could be the best option to reshape the cooperation.

In the fourth chapter, “The Gulf War and International Implications,” Kumral notes in hindsight how difficult it was to formulate and execute any policy for set up by Ankara to continue fresh cooperation with Baghdad. In this chapter, Kumral shows why the Kurdish question was raised as an important issue for Turkey, especially following the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s and the transformation of Turkey-Iraq relations during the Gulf War period. Kumral argues that the security threat constituted by the PKK framed Turkey’s new security and domestic policy to maintain relations with Iraq. Nevertheless, Kumral analyses why Ankara changed its policy during the 1988 refugee crisis, which drove Ankara to cooperate with Iraqi Kurds for humanitarian reasons rather than to work with the Saddam regime, despite the toll this took on relations with Baghdad. Additionally, the author shows why Turkey has had no alternative except to accept the rise of the U.S. as a superpower and to cooperate with it; Ankara fully grasped that the Cold War was the USSR’s last breath and the sign of a paradoxical shift of world order from the USSR to the U.S.

In the fifth chapter, Kumral presents his final arguments regarding non-cooperation between Turkey and Iraq. He explores the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as the chief reason shaping the further dyadic relation between Ankara and Baghdad. Kumral shows how Turkey’s assistance to the U.S. to engage in the air bombardment of Iraq created the economic and security interests leading Turkey to augment its relations with Iraq. However, Kumral, again shows how the post-war period has reshaped Turkey’s foreign policy towards Iraq, which is clearly distinguished by two substantial facts: the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s security and economic interests, including the issue of Kirkuk and Erbil.

Therefore, in the concluding section of the book, Kumral explores Turkey and Iraq’s dynamic relations based on their cooperation in Erbil. To explain this, the author shows how Turkey’s foreign policy shifted due to the declaration of war against ISIS.

Despite its many merits, this book could have been strengthened by the addition of further study to explore whether Turkey-Iraq relations promise cooperation or a partial/non-cooperation, especially through an examination of the fall of ISIS, Turkey’s recent move towards Syria and its dimensional policy changes with other global and regional countries such as the U.S., Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Last but not least, Kumral laudably critiques the cooperation and non-cooperation methodology employed to identify relations between Turkey and Iraq. Kumral’s huge theories of cooperation, as well as his contributions of empirical case studies of the Turkey-Iraq relationship, add major insights to the literature related to Turkey and Iraq’s foreign policy. Additionally, the historically based discussion will provide readers with deep knowledge about the transformation of Turkey’s foreign policy toward Iraq, and Iraq’s foreign policy toward Turkey. Rethinking Turkey-Iraq Relations deserves high praise for its inclusive framework and formulation of new analytical tools in the quest to understand the evolution of historical relations between Turkey and Iraq.

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