Barzani was not alone as a card of this kind, for the same strategy incorporated Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as well. As the arch-symbol of this positive relationship, both Kurdish leaders had long carried Turkish passports. Historically speaking, the logic of Turkey's Barzani card is very simple: (i) shielding other Kurds from the appeal of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)-centered Kurdish politics; (ii) benefiting from Barzani's military and political power to limit the activities of the PKK in the region; and (iii) preventing Barzani from taking sides against Turkey with the PKK or any other group. The latter is a “tacit purpose” strategy: Turkey has always had a deep fear of losing Barzani in favor of other anti-Kurdish groups. The crisis between Ankara and the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad has recently increased Barzani's strategic value to Turkey. Now Barzani has another “card” role: (iv) he is the actor through which Turkey can continue its relations with Iraq despite the enmity of the Baghdadi central government.
What does Turkey offer Barzani in exchange for these roles? In theory, Barzani's dependence on Turkey is more serious. Turkey has the geographical and political capacity to isolate the Barzani-led Kurdistan. Today, Turkey is the corridor that connects the Barzani-led Kurdistan economy to global markets. Finally, the fact that Barzani is, like Turkey, a member of the US-friends club in the Middle East should not be underestimated.
Seen in this way, the logic of relations between Turkey and Barzani is simpler. In practice, there is not much more than economic interest that either side can offer the other. Furthermore, the fear of losing each other is the negative factor that ties both sides. Otherwise, Barzani's ability to contribute helpfully to the resolution of Turkey's grand problems is limited. Can Barzani help Turkey solve Ankara's weakness at gathering intelligence against the PKK? No. Can Barzani influence the support of the PKK by large masses of Kurds? No. Can Barzani declare a war against the PKK in Iraq? No. Can Barzani become a pro-Turkish actor against the autonomy-seeking Kurds in Syria? No. So? The friendship between Turkey and Barzani can generate only a few benefits in terms of immediate problems, such as PKK terrorism. However, enmity may give rise to fatal threats.
Meanwhile, Turkey will encounter several critical issues with regard to Barzani's position in the region. For instance, will Turkey tolerate some other Kurdish leadership in the region? Or should Turkey prevent any alternative leadership against Barzani? Having an alternative Kurdish leadership in the region is certainly in Turkey's favor in the long term. Ankara is locked in a very narrow setting between Barzani and the PKK.
Is there anyone who can remind us of what Talabani had said on the recent issues? Talabani is almost off the scene and his collapse is another reason for Turkey's dependence on Barzani. Therefore, Turkey should start a deep perusal of Syrian Kurdish politics to seek out potential allies. Why does Barzani need Turkey? As noted above, Turkey is the corridor country to all Kurds. Similarly, autonomy-seeking groups in northern Syria would equally need Turkey's tolerance to consolidate their polities.
Observing all the activism among the Kurds, we note the missing point: We do not know how Iran will become part of this “great game.” Early expectations are that Iran will be critical of the autonomy-seeking Kurdish groups in Syria. Iran's positioning itself as the anti-Kurdish pole is a very critical factor that needs Turkey's deep analysis.