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Time for Turkey to concentrate on Iraq

   
InternationalThe current turmoil in Iraq especially with the Americans taking on the Shiite radicals and the pro-Saddam Sunni extremists has created question marks on whether Iraq will ever be stable and can it be kept united. Kurdish leaders believe Turkey should concentrate more on this potentially dangerous situation that may plunge the region into instability in the not too distant future.

A recent visit to Suleymaniya and Erbil showed that there is growing concern among the Kurdish leadership that while the Kurds are doing their best to contribute to the creation of a united and stable Iraq the same sensitivities are not displayed by their potential Sunni and Shiite Arab partners.

This has convinced the Kurdish leaders that they have to forge a closer alliance with Turkey that they feel they can rely on if the situation turns to the worst.

Kurdish leaders agree on the analysis that the current extremism displayed by the pro-Saddam Sunni elite of Iraq that ruled the country as a minority for nearly three decades and the radical mullahs like Muqtada al-Sadr who dominates the Shiite majority with his populist views is a source of deep anxiety not only for them but for the Iraqi Kurds in general.

"Our people are already asking us how we can live together with such extremists as partners in a unitary Iraqi state," says Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government who runs the regions controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Necirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government that runs the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Democracy Party (KDP), also shares this view and says uncertainties and ongoing instability in the rest of Iraq are creating deep concerns among the Iraqi Kurdish people who are living in peace and tranquility in the north.

The Iraqi Kurds say they have done everything in their power to be constructive and have cooperated with the Sunni and Shiite Arabs in the Governing Council but stress at the moment the extremists both among the Shiites and the Sunnis have the upper hand and this is causing anxiety for the Kurds.

Meanwhile, local observers say the key element in Iraq's stability is the Shiites. If they can get their act together and draw a moderate image they can contribute to creating a viable system in Iraq and thus convince the liberals in the country that the Shiites will not turn Iraq into a republic of the Mullahs.

The Shiites in return have become a chess game between the U.S. and Iran. Observers point out that whenever the U.S. puts pressure on Iran the Iranians controlled by Ayatollah Khameini and Rafsancani manage to manipulate the Shiites who in return create serious problems for the Americans in Iraq.

Observers say the hardline Iranians will only start negotiations with the Americans to put an end to this chess game only after they win the presidency and bring down Khatami. That they predict will be in a year's time when Iran will hold presidential elections. Until then the situation will continue to have its ups and downs in Iraq while the Americans go ahead with their plans to handover power to the Iraqis on June 30.

The Kurds are concerned that if the situation deteriorates so much that they have to start taking measures to survive they may be left with little option but to isolate themselves from the events in Iraq. They say this is a hard decision to take.

They feel Turkey is their best and may be their only friend in the region. "We want to establish strong dialogue with Turkey and maintain warm ties," says Necirvan Barzani.

Observers say the Iranians will always side with the Shiite Arabs and the Arabs in general with the Sunnis and thus no neighbor of Iraq will hardly have any sympathy for the Kurds besides Turkey.

They say the Kurds know this and feel forging close ties with Turkey will serve their vital interests.

However, observers also feel Turkey has to start shaping a new policy on Iraq in view of the fast developing situation and the possible scenarios if Iraq falls apart. They say if the Kurds turn to Ankara and say, "As you see we are forced to live with extremist mullahs and Sunni fanatics. What would you do in our place?" The Turkish government has to be in a position to give a viable answer. Thus Turkey has to start working on new policies regarding Iraq and the Kurds.

  
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