Opposition wants to change Turkish foreign policy on Iran, Iraq

With Turkey approaching elections, opposition parties agree a change is needed in its foreign policy with regards to Iran and Iraq, particularly after Iran struck up a deal with major world powers on nuclear talks this year, shifting the balance in the region and bringing Iran closer to its former foe, the US administration.
According to the opposition parties, the government’s foreign policy has caused Turkey to lose friends and fueled tensions in the region stemming from sectarianism.
The six major world powers — the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russian and China — reached a preliminary deal with Iran in early April, an agreement designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and lifting the UN sanctions on Iranian economy. The sides are expected to finalize the deal in June for a lasting settlement of the decades-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear efforts.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) seems to be worried about Iran’s rising influence in the region. Following this development, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who previously called Iran his second home — called on Iran to stop supporting the Shiite Houthis in Yemen and accused Iran of trying to dominate the Middle East. He also asked Iran to withdraw its forces from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as Iran’s intervention in those countries angers Turkey.
Erdogan’s unexpected outburst has prompted major tensions between Turkey and Iran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Turkish Chargandeacute d’Affaires in Tehran Barii Saygin and handed him a diplomatic note asking for a clear and convincing explanation from Ankara to clarify the president’s criticism of Iran.
Turkish officials have been worried that an agreement on the nuclear issue may upend the Middle East’s fragile balance of power. Some analysts argued that Erdogan’s Iran outburst aimed to mend Turkey’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, which had deteriorated due to Turkey’s staunch support of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt consider the MB a terrorist organization.
Those analysts have been proven right, as Turkey and Saudi Arabia — the two countries worried that Iran may follow a more aggressive policy in the region — struck a deal recently to cooperate on toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iranians are helping certain groups fight against the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and are gaining points in the eyes of the US. Iran, along with Russia, also supports the Assad regime.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) Adana deputy and veteran diplomat Faruk Loioilu told Today’s Zaman previously that the new and invigorated partnership between Turkey and Saudi Arabia rests on a change of mind by the Saudis, as the two countries always wanted and still aim to remove Assad from power. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Loioilu said the change in the Saudi mindset is due to the fact that the new king appears to have decided to prioritize curbing Iranian influence in the region whatever the cost, as was seen in the Saudi military intervention in Yemen and now the decision to support “jihadists” in Syria.
“The Turkish-Saudi cooperation in extending arms and financial support to the rebels fighting Assad portends deeper and protracted violence in Syria. Diplomatic efforts will again be pushed to the backburner on the deceptive and mistaken assessment that rebel forces are making lasting gains against Assad and that Assad is about to go. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have put the military option before the diplomatic, a move that will only prolong and deepen the sufferings of the Syrian people. The move will also open new space for ISIL and compel Iran to take countermeasures — all this will make things much worse in Syria and the region than what we are faced with now,” said Loioilu.
Opposition parties, particularly the CHP, warn that Turkey must not take sides in sectarian conflicts to protect its own interests and regional peace.
CHP leader Kemal Kiliandcdaroilu is also worried by the rising influence of Iran. Speaking to the press after Iran’s nuclear deal in April, Kiliandcdaroilu criticized the AK Party policies in the Middle East and said that, with the right policy, Turkey could have played a key role in the region. He also said Turkey needs to see the nuclear deal with Iran as an opportunity and change the direction of its foreign policy to a more peaceful approach.
Until a few years ago, Turkey was in a mediator position between Iran and the Western powers. Kiliandcdaroilu pointed out that Turkey was not part of the recent nuclear talks, adding that this is an important sign that Turkey is pursuing the wrong foreign policy.
The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is also worried about Iran’s influence in the region and encourages Turkey to be more vocal on international platforms. The MHP is also critical of Turkey’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood approach in the region, saying that it harms Turkey’s interests in the region.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is concerned over Iran’s pressure against Kurds living in the Mahabad region of Iran. In a recent address at a university, HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtai criticized Iran, saying that it is a “regime of pressure,” and if the people of Iran want to change this regime, they can. Furious ethnic Kurds in Iran’s Mahabad region rioted over the unexplained death of a maid in early May in front of the hotel where 25-year-old Farinaz Khosravani worked. Khosravani plunged from a fourth-floor window of the city’s four-star hotel, the Tara, in the mostly Kurdish city of Mahabad. Local Kurdish media reported that Khosravani was trying to escape being raped by members of the Iranian intelligence. After the incident, Demirtai said Iran ignores the existence of the Kurds in Mahabad and pressures Kurds.
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The AK Party government has started afresh with the change of administration in Iraq last year. Turkey had been critical of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government due to the Shiite Maliki’s favoring Shiites over other ethnic groups in the country. The new prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has formed a better relationship with Turkey, but the country is struggling against ISIL. ISIL is swiftly aancing in the country, most recently gaining control over Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
The opposition parties accuse Turkey of lacking a clear strategy in the fight against ISIL. Loioilu previously told Today’s Zaman that the AK Party government has been reluctant to put up a strong fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria so far. “The policies that the government has pursued have created a perception of a Turkey that appears to support terrorism. There are serious allegations and findings to that end,” he said.
The CHP does not see a robust commitment to fighting ISIL on the government’s part and says that the government should reveal an action plan against ISIL and terrorism.
Forty-nine people at Turkey’s Mosul consulate-general were kidnapped by ISIL militants last June, and in September of last year they were released. At the time, Turkey had been telling Western countries that it could not contribute to the coalition against ISIL, as it would mean putting the hostages’ lives in danger. But even after the end of hostage crisis, Turkey still faces criticism from the West for not providing help in the fight against ISIL and turning a blind eye to the foreign fighters crossing through Turkey into Syria and Iraq to join ISIL.
Turkey is reluctant to give expanded rights to the US-led coalition forces for the use of the incirlik airbase, which is in close proximity to ISIL targets inside Iraq and Syria.
MHP leader Devlet Bahandceli is also very critical of Turkey’s policies in Iraq, saying that the government has led Turkey into trouble in Iraq and contributed to the chaos in Iraq with its sectarian policies.
According to its party program, the HDP is against efforts for regime change in the region, in particular Syria and Iraq, with the support of the US and NATO and any form of Turkish involvement in these efforts.
The HDP also has close ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. KRG President Massoud Barzani met with an HDP delegation early last month in Arbil. The delegation delivered a letter from the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah andOcalan. A delegation made up of pro-Kurdish politicians and HDP deputies regularly visits andOcalan — who is incarcerated on imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara — as part of a settlement process launched at the end of 2012 to solve Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish and terrorism problems.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman