Because recent tension between a broad spectrum of Iraqi politicians and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has led to an initiative to unseat Maliki, Turkey should carefully mull over the advantages of an Iraq without him, which would have significant implications on its policies in the region.
Turkish political analysts who are experts in Iraqi politics have claimed that it is an important step towards breaking Iranian influence in the region, starting in Iraq and Syria. In terms of Maliki’s obvious anti-Turkey campaign, accusing Turkey of being a “hostile state,” meddling in Iraqi affairs over the past month, his unseating could be a welcome development in Turkey, they added.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman last week, Turkish diplomatic sources also touted the new developments to unseat Maliki in Iraq. The officials added that the source of the political crisis in Iraq is Maliki and that there is no conflict between Turkey and Iraq, but rather a crisis within the war-torn country.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart have traded tit-for-tat criticisms and accusations several times this year. Erdoğan last month accused Maliki of fanning tensions between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds in Iraq through “self-centered” behavior. Maliki quickly responded that Turkey was becoming a “hostile state” with a sectarian agenda, saying it was meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to establish regional “hegemony.”
Maliki has significant support from Shiite provinces such as Diwaniyyah, Wasit and Basra in southern Iraq, but he is not unrivaled as there are Shiite groups that challenge his authority, most importantly the movement led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Last week, Sadr urged Maliki to “do the right thing” and resign.
Iraqi politicians have managed to collect some 172 signatures to call for a vote to unseat Maliki on the basis of his failure to abide by the clear principles of the Iraqi constitution that envisaged a balance of power between the different sects and ethnicities in Iraq. Northern Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is also a strong supporter of this campaign, having long-running disputes with Baghdad on territory and the sharing of oil revenues. The collected names were presented to President Jalal Talabani on Monday, who will pass them to Parliament Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi in the next parliamentary session. It is also speculated that Barzani’s group in the Kurdistan Alliance, Sunni Arabs and the al-Sadr movement would run in an alliance to form a government in Iraq to replace Maliki.
“Ousting Maliki would be a stinging blow to Iran’s Shiite crescent policy and would minimize the influence of Iranian influence on Iraq to an important degree. Iran has put Maliki in place in order to support Syria, now [with Maliki’s possible removal] the way to reach Syria will be blocked and that really would play into Turkey’s hand,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Sunday’s Zaman last week. Turkey is a staunch critic of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, which is conducting a violent crackdown on its opposition, also fearing the conflict will spread from Syria beyond its borders to Turkey and Lebanon.
Iraq is an important transit route for Iran to influence the process in Syria, where it continues to support the violent administration militarily and politically. Also being afraid of total isolation, Iraq is an important economic and political ally for Iran as a way out of its marginalization and isolation. For Baghdad to be selected as a venue for the last round of nuclear talks between the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran in May is not a coincidence if we consider the political alliance between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Assistant Professor Serhat Erkmen, a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), expressed caution on the implications of ousting Maliki, claiming that it would further complicate the political and security situation in Iraq. A vote of no confidence in the country’s prime minister would mean the fall of the government and a new majority government will need to be created in 45 days, according to the Iraqi constitution. Citing that fact, Erkmen ruled out the possibility that forming a new government in such a short time is possible and said that it would obviously lead to a big power vacuum, creating instability in Iraq -- a situation that would also have security implications for Turkey.
Asked about what kind of a position Turkey needs to adopt, Mehmet Yeğin, an expert on international security at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), noted that Turkey has to play a “supra-partisan” role in the political struggle in Iraq, staying at equal distance from all political groups involved. “It is risky to form an alliance with any of the groups in Iraq. We supported [al-Iraqiya leader Ayad] Allawi openly in 2010 and that was the start of sour relations between Maliki and Turkey,” Yeğin said.