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Research Report

Confidence Building Between Turks and Iraqi Kurds

David L. Phillips
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2009
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 40
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. i-ii)
    Frederick Kempe

    One of most sensitive and potentially promising relationships in the Middle East is that between Turkey and Iraq, two countries of central interest to the United States. Crucial in Turkey’s relationship with Iraq is its view of Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish leaders have blamed the Kurdish Regional Government for being insufficiently tough on the PKK terrorist group. At the same time, Turkey realizes that a stable Iraq is in its interest and that an enhanced relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan could bring it significant benefit on energy and commercial grounds. Iraqi Kurds are similarly suspicious of Turkey, and point to Turkey’s treatment...

  2. (pp. iii-iv)

    The Obama administration’s “responsible redeployment” from Iraq will require a state that is stable, able to govern itself, and at peace with its neighbors. The recent increase of suicide attacks and spike in sectarian violence are reminders of Iraq’s ongoing volatility. Although northern Iraq remains relatively peaceful, it also faces serious issues that could escalate into conflict between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal Government of Iraq (GOI), as well as between Iraqi Kurds and other Northerners¹. Instability and violence would have serious implications in Iraq and across the region.

    On April 13-15, 2009, the Atlantic Council of...

  3. (pp. 1-5)

    Iraqi Kurdistan is potentially volatile and a threat to regional stability. The status of Kirkuk, the resolution of disputed territories, and relations among the KRG, Turkmen, and Arabs are all flashpoints for conflict escalation. Turkey’s concern about the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is exacerbated by the PKK’s presence in KRG-controlled territories. Conflict escalation within Iraq or between Iraq and its neighbors, including Turkey and Iran, would be a serious setback to regional and U.S. interests.

    It is a testament to the importance of US-Turkish relations that President Barack Obama visited Turkey just 77 days after his inauguration as...

  4. (pp. 6-12)

    In 1923, Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk (“the father of all Turks”), unified the remnants of the Ottoman Empire to create the Republic of Turkey. Though Ataturk was committed to build a truly modern state on par with the European powers, he was wary of European intentions. The Sevres Treaty of 1920 partitioned Turkey, reducing it to one-third of the Empire’s size, and promised the Kurds a country of their own. Ataturk rejected Sevres and rallied Turks in a “war of liberation.” Victorious, he succeeded in scuttling Sevres and replacing it with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. In 1925, Kurds...

  5. (pp. 13-22)

    While the following recommendations are not definitive or comprehensive, they identify opportunities for cooperation as an alternative to conflict.

    Until the Gülf War, Iraq was Turkey’s biggest trade partner. As a result of post-war economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, Turkey suffered $4.5 billion per year in lost trade. With Saddam’s overthrow, trade volumes are rebounding. Average trade volume has been $5 billion per year since 2003. Trade between Iraq and Turkey was $6 billion in 2008, and is estimated to be $10 million in 2009 and $20 billion in 2010. The KRG collects customs, which are deducted from its 17%...

  6. (pp. 23-24)

    The United States has a pivotal role to play in promoting integration within Iraq, between Iraq and Turkey, and between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey. However, ultimate responsibility rests with political leaders representing the interests of Turks and Iraqis, including Iraqi Kurds. Their vision, courage, and accommodation will be critical to facing the challenges ahead.

    It will be to the advantage of all parties to develop a “track two” dialogue to prepare public opinion for rapprochement and create a critical mass of integrated activities based on a shared vision for the future. While an international facilitator can assist, the impetus must...