By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
The Ankara dance with Erbil and Baghdad continued for much of this reporting period as Turkey’s President Erdogan continues to tread a fine balance between multiple regional stakeholders in the hope of neutralizing the al Qaeda (AQ) threat in northern Syria and of maximizing to potential of the regions natural resources.
The president of Iraqi Kurdistan visited southeastern Turkey for the first time in two decades on Saturday, a trip meant to shore up support for a flagging Kurdish peace process and to secure much needed support for a trilateral approach to tackling the flow and strength of AQ operations on a porous Turkish southern flank.
Ankara, Erbil and Baghdad are becoming much more concerned about the influence, aims and clout of Kurdish militias in Syria, some of who are not aligned with Erbil’s government and who have confirmed jihadist leanings. The recent declaration by said militias, which lays out plans for a north Syria regional administration, have been met with skepticism and little approval from regional powers, mainly due to the fact they feel this is the making of a deal with the government of Bashar al-Assad, to whom Ankara and Erbil are overtly opposed. Of concern is whether this deal does materialize and whether al-Assad will use the Kurdish militias to further erode the capability of the Syrian opposition, whom Ankara and Erbil both support.
There are a number of balances to be struck here by both Iraq and Turkey, all of which have an affect on security in the long term. “The most critical issue is how to set up a new balance in the Ankara-Erbil-Baghdad triangle,” columnist Fehim Tastekin wrote on Middle Eastern news website Al-Monitor however there is also the question of how do both countries balance their regional relationships and plays when potentially both want Kurdish militias to further erode the AQ capability in the region all the while acknowledging that these same militias may also be in the business of striking deals with Damascus?