Iraqs Turkmen to suffer

Although most fear a collision of both a sectarian and ethnic nature is awaiting Iraq in the post-US era, experts believe threats from the blocs in favor of a federation are leverage for blocs to impose their will on one another, but they also voice concern that minorities, led by the Turkmens, will suffer under the weight of the fight before the blocs reach a consensus, if they ever do.

Only a day after the last US troops withdrew from Iraq, powerful blocs of Sunni and Shiite leaders drew their swords in a fight to snatch power from each other, reviving a scene from back in 2007 when blocs gathered along sectarian lines and took thousands of lives monthly to prove their worth in Iraqi politics.

However, a significant minority group, the Turkmens, say the pressure was always there, before the US intervention, and maybe more increasingly, after their pullout.

Having already issued an arrest warrant for the top Sunni official and asked for the resignation of the second in line, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made the first move against rivals in the fear that Iraq might see another era of Sunni dominance and in the hope that he gathers enough power under the grip of the Shiite bloc to ensure Shiite control the country.

While Sunni and Shiite blocs took up the fight from where they left off in 2007, and the Kurdish administration started gaining political power through oil deals it secured with foreign companies, other smaller groups, most significantly the Turkmens, worry that they will be trampled as the conflicts continue.

“The Turkmen community in Iraq is the only one without arms,” Mehmet Tütüncü, the general director of İstanbul-based Iraqi Turks Culture and Mutual Aid Society (ITKYD), told Sunday’s Zaman as he expressed concern over the fate of the minority group. “If, God forbid, Iraq falls into three pieces as most believe it will, the situation of the Turkmens will be even worse, as they will be split between Kurdish and Arab blocs geographically,” he added to point out that an extensive conflict among the powerful blocs might shake the ground the Turkmen community stands on.

However, he also claimed that the Turkmens would not side with any party if at some point Iraq becomes a federation, saying, “We always say the Turkmens are a part of Iraq; the Turkmens will never be a part of a part.”According to Tütüncü, Turkmens are divided almost equally among Shiite and Sunni, but they stand together according to their ethnic identity. There are approximately 2.5 to 3 million Turkmens in Iraq, Tütüncü claimed, citing a census held in 1957, after which “Turkmen” was not listed under the category of ethnicities -- “one could either be Kurdish or Arab.”

He suggested that Kirkuk was historically a Turkmen city but overrun by Arabs during Saddam’s reign and by Kurds after 2003, the year of the US intervention. “The demographic structure of the city is far from reflecting its historical settlers,” Tütüncü claimed, but both Kurds and Arabs make the same claim, saying they are the historical owners of the oil-rich Iraqi provinces.

Oil is a curse for Iraqis

Alongside the blocs’ strong desire for political dominance over each other, the Iraqi conflict is also significantly an economic one, with many areas in the country blessed with natural resources, drawing attention from the rest of the world for a share of the oil profits.

The semiautonomous Kurdish administration of the north, in particular, proves to be an example where economics dominates the political scene, as the administration has struck deals with oil companies that acted against their arrangements with the Baghdadi government as they recognized the Kurdish authority as the rightful owners of the resources. Rich fields of oil are also found in the Turkmen provinces, but since the status of the Turkmen hometowns are still vague, the oil is not a contributor to their society but a cause of conflict since all blocs lay claim to the same lands.

“The main challenge for Iraq lies with the integration of Kurds into central Iraqi administration, but it is still a mystery where that road will lead since Kurds are able to use their oil resources to secure economic and political power from oil deals,” Ramazan Gözen, an academic at Yıldırım Beyazıt University, told Sunday’s Zaman, as he advocated that natural resources and economic activities across the country should be supervised by Baghdad, not by local or regional administrations.

“Oil deals struck by countries with the Kurdish administration steer Iraq away from solidarity for the benefit of big companies by providing the means for the Kurds to opt for a federal structure in the country,” he added. “Oil has always been a curse for the Turkmens, a major reason for the controversy regarding their lands; instead of wealth and prosperity, oil has brought trouble to the Turkmens,” Tütüncü added to clarify that wealth has its own complexities.

Turkey changes perspective on Iraq

Turkey’s approach toward Iraq also took another form after the US intervention, as the country extended its vision of Iraq consisting only of its border with Turkey and its perspective that focused on protection of Turkmens in the country. Although the struggle of the Turkmens to remain unharmed by clashes still has enormous significance for Turkey’s Iraq policy, the country is now more concerned with the stability of Iraq as a whole, rather than of its parts.

“Turkish policy on Iraq before 2000 was focused solely on the Turkmens, which was a rather narrow vision that did not help anyone,” Gözen said, as he said that the Turkish attitude toward Iraq has changed over the last decade. “Now the horizon is farther away with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visiting Shiite headquarter cities, then moving on to lunch with Kurdish administration in the north,” he stated to express the change in the Turkish official Turkish perspective with regards to Iraq.

Gözen also signaled that such moves were unthinkable in the last decade but that today’s Turkey was well aware that it had to ignore ethnicity and sect to help Iraqi maintain the stability the country urgently needs in the fragile Middle Eastern region. “Turkey is apparently at odds with Maliki, who probably believes Turkey is hostile to him because he is of Shiite descent,” Ufuk Ulutaş of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) told Sunday’s Zaman. He agreed that sect and ethnicity had to be ignored when looking at Iraq.

“It is hard for a country [Iraq] that is psychologically divided into political blocs to understand how another country might be blind to its blocs, but this is exactly the position of Turkey toward Iraq now,” he added, stressing that Turkey was not seeking to have one bloc benefit at the expense of another because any power imbalance would harm Turkey drastically. Ulutaş also doesn’t believe Iraq will break up into pieces after the US pullout, thinking none of the blocs that currently seem to be battling actually wants to be on its own through independence.

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