By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
It has been a bloody week for many Iraqis as insurgents and militia groups have pressed home a number of coordinated high impact attacks resulting in large numbers killed and wounded. Transnational influences have also dominated reporting as regional leaders seek to find ways to control and neutralize the threat currently presented by an emboldened and well-recruited al Qaeda (AQ).
The increased presence and influence of AQ and associated groups in both Syria and Iraq has started to galvanise regional relationships. With significant AQ presence on a NATO southern flank and deep into Iraq both the Turkish and Iraqi governments have acknowledged the need to contain the threat of rising extremism and those areas of support and shelter. The merger of AQs Syrian and Iraqi wings this year to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has added fresh impetus to AQs presence and operations in the region resulting in increased attacks as well as serious territorial gain in northern Syria close to the border with Turkey. In addition, the movement of men and weapons, especially from across the Iraqi frontier represents a potent security challenge and one that is affecting the security environment on a daily basis.
Given historical difficulties, predominantly over the Turkish support for the independent Kurdish government and military action in northern Iraq, it is unlikely to be a match made in heaven, but it does symbolize a positive bilateral step forward in trying to contain the AQ threat (especially when one considers the support that both countries could draw from Turkeys membership of NATO), however much may depend on the actions of the Kurdish community as they attempt to increase their regional presence in both Iraq and Syria.
In line with this Kurdish militants sought to consolidate their control of an oil-producing region in northeastern Syria on Sunday after seizing the Yarubiya border crossing with Iraq from Islamist rebels.
Fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought in neighboring Turkey for decades, have been clearing pockets of AQ resistance throughout the weekend and were reported to have secured the crossing point late Sunday, leaving them with clear access to Syrian oilfields and control over much territorial movement into Iraq. This situation possibly raises an interesting scenario for Ankara. Given that Turkey is now looking to collaborate with Iraq on security issues and has recently renewed a peace mandate with PKK (whose fighters in Syria are directly fighting and killing AQ combatants) we may see a continued softening of the Ankara position with Kurdistan as they look to combat AQ by proxy, using the PKK to do the fighting. If the Syrian Kurds retain their current territorial gains the Syrian oilfields and their product may in due course provide further incentive to Turkey to secure a lasting solution to the Kurdish problem.