Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who recently met with members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria, has shot himself in the foot by negotiating with a group considered a threat by its neighbor Turkey, analysts agree.
A Kurdish delegation led by Saleh Mohammed Muslim, the head of the PYD, which is active in northern Syria, arrived in Baghdad on Dec. 20 and met with Iraq’s Shiite prime minister. Maliki’s meeting with the PYD leader was criticized by experts, who believe that such a meeting would further strain ties between Turkey and Iraq.
“I believe this meeting is inappropriate. Maliki is knocking on the wrong door by negotiating with the PYD, a group that is against Turkey. What can the PYD give to Maliki?
Nothing but trouble,” Faruk Loğoğlu, a deputy chairman of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a former ambassador, said in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.
The PYD gained control of several towns near the Turkish border in July, apparently after Syrian forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were moved to more central areas to fight against Syrian opposition forces. The PYD, established in 2003, collaborates with both Assad’s regime and the terrorist PKK.
The PYD poses a security threat to Turkey, which has threatened military intervention in Syria if terrorist PKK-linked groups establish control over northern Syria.
The meeting of Maliki, who is currently tough on Turkey, with PYD members is the second one in the past several months. The first meeting was not as well publicized as the second.
Loğoğlu believes that the PYD aims to increase its relative power and control in Syria rather than directly harming Turkey. “It will most likely be the PYD that will be the loser if it messes with Turkey,” said Loğoğlu.
Meanwhile, PYD leader Muslim, during an interview with Voice of America’s Kurdish service, blamed the Turkish government for meddling in Syrian affairs and in Kurdish regions of the war-torn country. Muslim said Turkey should accept that Syrian Kurds will rely on their unity in an attempt to achieve their goals in Syria.
According to Muhammad Rasho, a senior PYD representative who spoke to the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw, the meeting with Maliki was to discuss the crisis in Syria and to find a peaceful solution.
Since the start of the Syrian crisis, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister has given unequivocal support to the Assad regime.
The Syrian crisis, which has dragged on for far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising and has become a tough ordeal for Turkey, is the main point of contention between Ankara and Baghdad in recent times. Ankara wants Assad to step down while Baghdad, which has close ties to Assad’s ally Iran, was hesitant to take a stance on the Syrian conflict.
Nüzhet Kandemir, Turkey’s former ambassador to Washington and a prominent foreign policy commentator, believes that Maliki wants to give an impression that Iraq is taking measures against Turkey by negotiating with the PYD.
“In my opinion, I don’t believe that these meetings will work out or will succeed in causing Turkey harm. Maliki’s government should try to get along well with Turkey if it aims to have long-term relations with Ankara. It will be in Iraq’s interest not to negotiate with such groups,” said Kandemir in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.
Turkish relations with the central government in Baghdad have been strained as a result of various factors, including the Syrian crisis and the Kurdish issue.
Besides these issues, another point of contention between these two neighbors is Turkey’s import of crude oil from northern Iraq according to a deal with the Iraqi Kurdish administration without the consent of the central Iraqi government.
Baghdad has warned Turkey that its separate deal in the region could damage trade relations between Iraq and Turkey, adding that both countries could build good ties if Turkey avoids signing separate oil agreements with the Kurdish administration.
“Why is Maliki negotiating with the PYD? The answer is clear. He wants to send a message to Turkey that ‘if you negotiate with the Kurdish administration in Iraq, then I will negotiate with the PYD.’ Maliki is uneasy over Turkey’s relations with the Iraqi Kurdish administration. Therefore, he aims to cause discomfort to Turkey by negotiating with the PYD,” Atilla Sandıklı, the chairman of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), told Sunday’s Zaman.
The Maliki government doesn’t seem to be pleased with Turkey’s political support of the Kurdish government or with its involvement in the energy projects in the region.
“Negotiating with the PYD is not an appropriate behavior for the Iraqi central government. As a reaction against Turkey, the Iraqi government met with PYD members but in the future, such a meeting may create negative implications for the Maliki government. It will not provide any benefit to Iraq, only harm, as it may deepen the problems within Iraq,” Sandıklı said.