In Turkey’s interest

In general, Turkey has been a supporter of "free and fair elections in Iraq" and considers the upcoming elections of January 30 a critical part of Iraq’s transition. According to Ankara, the elections may ease problems of transition, decrease violence and instability, and bring normalization and legitimacy to the post-Saddam regime. The holding of elections has also been in line with Turkey’s general Iraq policy that calls for a unified, stable, and democratic Iraq.

Despite the difficulties, the elections and the successful working of the political process are clearly seen as a way to break a vicious cycle. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in his speech to the parliament referred to this dilemma in Iraq. According to Gul, the chronic instability that is plaguing Iraq impedes a successful transition process. On the other hand, the absence of a transfer of sovereignty creates more violence. Thus the only way to break this cycle is to advance the legitimate political process. Due to these considerations, Turkey is supporting the holding of elections on time. For the same reason, again in Gul’s words, Ankara thinks the transfer of sovereignty "should be real and not virtual". Within this context Turkey is also supporting increased United Nations involvement in Iraq during and after the elections.

Nevertheless, Turkey is aware of the difficulties of this transition. There seems to be a clear concern that after the elections there could be factional infighting–even a civil war–in the country. To prevent this, Ankara emphasizes the importance of the principle of inclusion, preferably in the elections, and certainly in the post-election process of building institutions. The importance of securing the participation of Arab Sunnis was particularly emphasized by several Turkish government officials. Foreign Minister Gul stated that, "We will make suggestions to anyone in order to persuade them to participate in the elections. Sunni Arabs should not be excluded from the government. While Iraq was being formed in 1932, the Shi’ites were excluded from the administration. When they tried to participate in the government later on, trouble occurred. The same things should not be repeated."

A more important sticking point from Turkey’s perspective is related to Kirkuk. Turkey has opposed Kurdish control of the multi-ethnic city. Since the toppling of the Saddam regime, Turkey has been arguing that the reversal of Saddam’s Arabization policies should not lead to Kurdification of the Kirkuk region. Turkey several times stated bluntly that it would not accept a change in the status of Kirkuk.

The announcement by Iraqi Kurdish leaders in December 2004 that they wanted to postpone local elections in Kirkuk was perceived in Ankara as another attempt by those leaders to incorporate the region into the Kurdistan federal government. The Kurdish leaders justified their position by arguing that article 58 of the Iraqi Administration Law, which calls expeditiously "to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime’s practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk" has not been implemented.

Recently US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited Syria, Iraq and Turkey and reiterated US support for the implementation of Article 58, without specifically speaking about Kirkuk. Whether this means postponement of local elections for the Kirkuk region is not clear. Turkey’s special representative for Iraq, Ambassador Osman Koruturk, has also said that Turkey wants the implementation of Article 58. However, the important point for Turkey is that only those who were subjected to these injustices are entitled to redress. The way in which this sensitive issue is handled is very important as there is a real danger of ethnic violence in the city.

Turkish diplomacy has engaged in bilateral and multilateral efforts to support the election process in Iraq and to realize its objectives. The government has dialogued with each of the Iraqi groups during the election process. In addition, the regional states’ initiative that was launched by Turkey has been institutionalized; it fosters a dialogue among these states, including Iraq, on issues related to that country. Finally, Turkey has been in contact with US and EU officials as regards Iraqi elections.

It is in Turkey’s interest to see the elections succeed. Success under these circumstances would mean that the elections are conducted in a more or less secure environment with the largest possible turnout, representing all groups in Iraq. The outcome should be seen as legitimate by the majority of Iraqis.

But even if all these conditions are met, there are still minefields ahead. The possibility of a civil war is the worst-case scenario. The Kirkuk issue will continue to be high on the agenda of Turkish policy-makers. In dealing with these challenges Turkey seeks to continue to foster its ties with all the actors in and out of the region, including within Iraq, working for a unified, stable and democratic Iraq. Only the emergence of such an Iraq would ease Turkey’s threat perceptions regarding that country. This in turn would lead Turkey to focus more on its own transformation through the EU accession process, and to a large extent would decrease tensions within Turkey as to the increasing power of ultra-nationalism there.