The Ottomans strike back - Turkey’s race for control is metastasizing in Iraq

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam
© Stringer
Turkey’s aggressive political stance towards its neighbors is fast becoming a matter of both contention and anger. Ankara this time has opened a front against Iraq, exploiting terror to legitimize its infringement of international law.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan is walking a fine line indeed this late 2015! From the downing of the Russian jet over Syria to a military incursion into Iraq, this one ambitious head of state is pushing and pulling at dynamics which could unravel the region further, offering radicals’ new grounds to exploit.

Whether for a lack of political perspective or a misplaced sense of political grandeur, Erdogan’s Turkey is looking very much the imperial power - a stark break from its former commitment of non-interference.

And if Turkey owes its survival and one could argue return to power, to its prudent foreign policies - favoring cooperation and collaboration, over smug patronage, Erdogan’s recent posing against both Russia and Iran positioned Ankara as yet another foe to contend with.

In a matter of weeks Erdogan managed to shatter decades of careful regional political balancing, failing in one swift move the possibility of a grand alliance against terror -  but then again, it could well be that for all his claims and promises Erdogan wishes not to defeat ISIL, but endeavor to play the beast to feed his neo-Ottoman dreams. Turkey today is indulging radicals their thirst for conquest because it believes it can exploit radicals’ ambitions to serve its own agenda.

And though such allegations might have appeared far-fetched only a few months ago, recent developments opened up truths we cannot afford to deny.
From a purely factual standpoint, Ankara has become a servant of terror - an enabler and a benefactor. From officials’ shady oil and gas dealings to militant trafficking and weapons dealing, Turkey opened up both its corridors of power and its territories to terror, so that its political elite could reclaim those provinces which Western powers denied them at the turn of the 20th century.

If Turkey is indeed running a crusade, its ire is not targeted at ISIL and its armies, but those lands which broke away from its sphere of influence a century ago, among which are Syria and Lebanon.

Behind Erdogan’s presidential facade lies the face of one ruthless Ottoman ruler.

As much as ISIL stands as a plague in the region, it also represents an undeniable opportunity for the likes of Turkey. Interestingly both powers share common hegemonic dreams: this notion that the Islamic world needs to be returned to the powers of old, to be reborn anew under the hand of its rightful religious leader. Let’s remember that until their imperial demise, the Ottomans sat as the ultimate Sunni religious authority - kings among kings. Those are the memories which haunt Erdogan; and if his palace is any indication of his true ambitions, Turkey is likely to continue on its imperial path - to hell with international law and national sovereignty.

Today, those goals have manifested by way of military encroachment on Iraq - yesterday it was Damascus which stood prey to Erdogan’s territorial greed as the ‘Sultan’ argued a cross-border “safe zone” to manage the flow of war refugees, ultimately asserting himself as Syria’s watchdog.

Only Russia came to upset those plans rather dramatically as Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged it’s military against ISIL, pounding at those positions which Ankara had hoped to wield as weapons of covert mass-invasion.

And so Iraq became Erdogan’s next logical step. Needless to say that Moscow’s energy sanctions precipitated Ankara’s decision to move against neighboring Iraq. If Turkey can hope to weather the loss of a few business contracts to Russia, it certainly cannot allow for its energy needs to remain unanswered.

But regardless of the immediate motivation Turkey’s latest move betrays, Erdogan’s latent imperialism remains a constant. There is an actual logic to his seemingly irrational madness … the annexation of former Ottoman provinces.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. © Umit Bektas

Still not convinced? Well let’s take this for validation: Reuters wrote in a report on December 7 that “Turkey would not withdraw hundreds of soldiers who arrived last week at a base in northern Iraq, despite being ordered by Baghdad to pull them out within 48 hours.”

“Turkish soldiers have reached the Mosul Bashiqa region. They are there as part of routine training exercises. One battalion has crossed into the region,” a security source told Reuters, declining to say exactly how many soldiers had been deployed, wrote the Guardian.

But here is where it gets interesting! Rather than slam Turkey for what can only be labeled as an act of war against Iraq, the United States meekly rebuffed Erdogan’s play, calling on both parties to resolve the political standoff.

If we were to translate President Obama’s subliminal political message here is what we would read: “International law has become a tool in the hands of a powerful elite, for which exceptionalism has been asserted as an inherent, although unspoken right.”

Should any foreign power outside the Western sphere of influence attempt such a feat as encroach on another’s territorial sovereignty you can bet your bottom dollar the international community would be up in arms, calling for sanctions to be rolled out. Only this violation was carried out by Turkey, a NATO member against Iraq, a state whose rights only exist should the Western elite allow it.

But Turkey’s aggression on Iraq is only the tip of the iceberg - it is the rationale it betrays we should all be worried about.

Under this new-founded veneer of exceptionalism, Turkey is looking to mainstream terror by making it its state policy, thus offering some level of legitimacy to the likes of  ISIL - notwithstanding the political cover it will offer radicals.

Turkey is exactly playing by terror’s book! Worse still, by acting the imperial autocrat Erdogan has blurred the line between terrorism and counterterrorism, adding political interests and hegemonic ambitions to a dynamic which should have remained simple: the eradication of terror.

No longer a regional actor, Erdogan’s Turkey has become as nefarious in its political pursuits as ISIL itself.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.