I happened to have written this year at the tender age of fifty a book, my first, by the name of “Gözden Irakta” that translates as “Far from Sight”. As “far” is also “Irak” and “Irak” is Iraq in Turkish, you guessed it right: half of the book is based on my own experience working either in or on Iraq during the second decade of my ill-fated twenty-year diplomatic career.
The private plane carrying the temporary PM Ahmad Chalabi and his delegation returning from Ankara touched ground at Baghdad International Airport on September 14, 2003. I had spent the previous year at our Permanent Delegation to the OECD in Paris.
Being utterly disillusioned with the petty work I was doing there and convinced that the first decade of my so-called career had led me nowhere, I had asked for an early rotation to get assigned as the General Consul to Mazar Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The Ministry came up with a better—or more sinister—idea, and appointed me Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, in the line of fire.
That was both unexpected and gratifying to me. That year, still in 2003, that is, while the U.S. war machine was gearing up to intervene in Iraq and not yet knowing that I was going to end up in Iraq and also being bored to death of what I was doing at the OECD, I was intellectually drawn to study the so-called “neo-con” thought.
Through Amazon I started to familiarize myself with the works of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom, read articles by Fouad Ajami and others and even devoured Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein. To admit the narrow limits of my meager computing capacity, the latter was by far the most enjoyable read for me. Therefore, when I ended up being assigned to Baghdad with short notice, the gist of my mental preparation was not rooted in the study of Iraq’s history or demography but in neo-con thought.
Freedom, martial spirit, protecting the republic, creative chaos, hermetic thinking, so on and so forth: I marched into the quagmire. Exactly one month later, I had the privilege of being at the receiving end of a VBIED attack on our Embassy that caused, by sheer luck, no casualties but significant material damage. Often times at nights our compound outside the Green Zone was hit by baby Katyushas and fired upon by light machine guns, generally from the British Military Cemetery right across the street. At night, we listened to the sounds of explosions, far or near.
Baghdad slowly but steadily whirled into chaos. By the end of 2004, members of our embassy protection team, all Police Special Ops Section members, were ambushed and savagely killed near Mosul. By the end of 2005, Ambassador Çeviköz narrowly escaped an assassination attempt with the help of his Palestinian driver’s sangfroid, and managed to return to the relative safety of our Embassy, his armored vehicle riddled with bullets.
Three years later, I returned to Ankara and took up work within the Ministry, but this time at the Office of Special Representative for Iraq with the title of Head of the Iraq Desk. After two more years of so-to-say “Sisyphean” bureaucratic efforts, I was offered the prized position of counselor at our Embassy in DC in charge of Iraq and C/T files. Less than two years later, I volunteered again to go back to Iraq to open our General Consulate in Erbil in March 2010, only to hand in my resignation from government service with disgust exactly three years and three months later.
By then, in one decade, Iraq had experienced the U.S. military takeover, hanging of Saddam, and a Sunni-Shia civil war, and had become a federation with Kurdistan as the single region with, until today, officially undefined internal borders. Six years on from June 2013, that is, since when I resigned, ISIS/Daesh also came and went, but the endemic corruption and the dysfunction of the government remained in place.
To make a long story short, Turkey’s approach to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) changed from ignorance to animosity, evolved from animosity to friendship and mutual dependence, and then got stuck at somewhere in between. I myself, as a diplomat, had gone from zero to hero and then back again abruptly to zero, falling flat on my face. Still, I did not lose interest in Iraq, but I also didn’t entertain any starry-eyed feelings of longing about it either. Iraq was, and still is, a difficult cake to break.
It has enormous riches, and its location on the map and geographic and demographic size allows it to be a key actor in the region. It has three interconnected big cities from Mosul in the north, to Baghdad in the center and Basra in the South. Its constitution, as a document on paper, is by far the most modern compared to the constitutions of its peers. Or, to say the least, there is no need today in Iraq to crown the current “thawra” (“revolution” in Arabic) with a new constitution.
I had half-entertained the hope that the fight against Daesh barbarism would cement the unity of the country and bring about a new national and functional government. At the same time, I had mused whether an able-bodied general would emerge from that fight as the next Bonaparte, or failing to that, the next Saddam of Iraq. But I did never expect hundreds of thousands to pour into the streets for, yes I am sorry I will say it, freedom.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
I admire their courage and hold my breath to see whether they will succeed or the motley crew of gangs and militias will gain the upper hand to sink Iraq back into slaughterhouse politics. Whichever way this story ends, it will be better than any script, or what any pinstripe-suited or turbaned “gray man” can come up with. For the moment Iraq is alive, but not ablaze. There is fifty-fifty chance they will make it. If they do, it will be for the better for all of us.
The imam too is apologetically in a hurry. I try to appear comforting in reiterating over and over again that everything is in order according to Islam. I even attempt to reassure him by patting his shoulder but my hand remains hanging in the air as the wide-eyed imam is aghast of this potential physical contact.
At the end of the day, Ankara’s undisclosed three-way bet appears to the naked eye as resting first on a hybrid mitigation approach as opposed to the full throttle suppression. Second, that the storm will pass quicker than others expect. Third, that Turkey will find itself on the winning end once the skies clear.
The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia.
Not quite. One can safely assume that Moscow dictates the, call it “new order” or the “new status quo” in Idlib. And at that, effectively getting in between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Arab Army. No more, no less and temporarily. Compared to a potential full-blown Turco-Syrian war, encouraged first and foremost by the U.S., it is no small feat either.
The assumption of those who predicted a sudden death to Erdoğan-Putin bromance is proven to be only wishful thinking. The two leaders, as shared with the public by Kremlin’s spokesperson Peskov are slated to meet in Moscow either on the 5th or the 6th of March. How many more Syrian Air Force Soviet made attack jets will be downed by then is anybody’s guess. The tally stands at three at present time.
Title is from a song by Sheffield band Pulp’s well known 1995 debut album: “Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits / Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh…” With a sleight of hand replace “biscuits” with “promises” and there you have it, a concise executive summary of Erdoğan’s Syria and Libya policies.
The art of diplomacy, among other things, is to create time and space for a rationale within the possible outcomes. That would be in this case, for the recently heavily fortified TAF observation posts establish a new frontier line leaving the control of the M4 and the M5 highways together with all the towns along them to Damascus and keep a much narrower pocket including the Idleb town to host the almost a million Syrian IDPs and hence allowing them conditions not push for the Turkish border.
Bana, on her term, travelled numerous times from Istanbul to Misrata than to Genoa and so forth. Recently though, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed through the disputed eight parcel declared by Greek Cyprus and, “to add insult to injury”, also topped its flag displaying mission by monitoring the same Bana being escorted by Turkish navy fregates to Libya. Before AFP had time to break the news, President Macron had already denounced Turkey as breaching the UN imposed arms embargo to Libya.
I have no single bit of sympathy at all for this ridiculous Trumpian unilateral MEPP that makes a mockery of diplomacy and the Palestinian land. But I do worry about the fact that Turkey carries no weight to dictate its will upon all the rest of the world. For that matter, no other power, be it regional or global, not even the U.S. enjoys that sort of latitude. There is no need for Ankara to constantly pick unnecessary fights while in the meantime there is no shortage of conflicts that Turkey’s national security all around it.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
President Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.”
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words