The US invasion in Iraq started on March 19, 2003 under the name Operation Iraqi Freedom, with a bid to bring democracy to Iraq by overthrowing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The country declared its complete withdrawal from Iraq on Dec. 31, 2011, after major losses on both US and Iraqi sides.
Looking over the shoulder to the complete 10-year period, Associate Professor Serhat Erkmen, lecturing at the international relations department of K?r?ehir’s Ahi Evran University and a Middle East adviser at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), claimed that “Iraq would be a very different country today,” assuming for one moment that the US invasion has not happened.
“After demolishing a state structure with force, withdrawal from a country leaving behind distorted structures, in the place of the one that you have demolished with force, is nothing but playing a game with that country’s [Iraq’s] history,” said Erkmen, emphasizing the negative effects of the US invasion of Iraq after 10 years.
The strained relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central Iraqi government over claimed territories, the sharing of oil revenues and political autonomy is the core reason for instability in the country. Last November, Kurds and Baghdad’s central government came close to clashes over the deployment of the Dijla Operations Command to a disputed area in the north by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. Kurds claimed that Maliki was trying to seize control over the oil-rich territories along the internal border that demarcates the Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq.
The ongoing two-year civil war in Syria, which takes on a more sectarian nature each day, is also a negative factor affecting Iraqi stability as it threatens to upset the Sunni-Shiite balance in the country. On Thursday, coordinated blasts killed at least 25 people in the heart of Baghdad. The blast would seem as part of the efforts of Sunni insurgents in the country that have the aim of undermining the Maliki-led Shiite government. Also on Wednesday, the local authorities in Sunni-populated western Anbar province decided to postpone provincial elections scheduled for April 20, as protests against Maliki grow in advance of local elections.
The disagreement over the political power share between Sunni and Shiite groups is a long-term political issue in Iraq. Sunni politicians and Iraqi regions populated mostly by Sunnis are losing their confidence in a Maliki government, accusing it of acting on sectarian-based policies in the aim of consolidating a Shiite dictatorship in the country.
In a report last week, the Financial Times deemed Turkey as “the true Iraq war victor,” due to flourishing economic relations between Turkey and the country in period of restructuring.
Mentioning an increasing volume of trade and investment relations between the neighbors, the journal explained that Turkish business circles being undaunted by moving on economically and politically unstable areas as a key for Turkish success in the war-torn country, which is still in the long process of restructuring. The trade volume between the two countries has almost reached $11 billion by the end of 2012, according to numbers from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat).
Meanwhile, KRG officials have noted that roughly one-third of the trade between Turkey and Iraq is limited to the KRG region. The trade and investment relations have a greater development potential if the political relations between Baghdad and Ankara were not so sour, observers say.
There has been a considerable boost in Turkey’s economic ties with the KRG, especially in the energy sector, which has not escaped Baghdad’s notice.
As political cooperation between the KRG and Turkey is also on an increasing trend, the situation is absolutely the opposite with the central Iraqi government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and Maliki have exchanged a number of criticisms since 2011, after Turkey expressed a serious concern over instability in the country.
Iran has a visible political influence on the Shiite Maliki government, which Emre Uslu, a political analyst and Taraf columnist, defines as the staunchest supporter of fragmentation in Iraq.
Saying that the ever-straining relations between the northern and southern authorities in the country could led to a disintegration, Uslu stated that Turkey should be more careful in not playing into the hands of Iran in such policy aims.
“Any moves Turkey makes that pull Iraqi Kurds closer to it [regarding ever-souring relations with the central government] could trigger fragmentation in Iraq,” Uslu said.
Uslu further claimed that the Maliki government, which shows an uncompromising position on a united Iraq, should come up with a formula to create stronger economic bonds and harmonized economic policies between the north and south of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Erkmen noted that the KRG’s good economic and political relations with Turkey have provided the authority with encouragement to behave more and more independently from Baghdad.
“Economic relations between Turkey and Iraq have enormous development potential, even more than the development that has already taken place. But the souring of relations with the Maliki government is a great obstacle to that. And relations are not likely to improve in the coming period,” Erkmen claimed.