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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaTürkiye: The Implication of Iraq Conflict on the US–Türkiye Strategic Relationship

Türkiye: The Implication of Iraq Conflict on the US–Türkiye Strategic Relationship

Author: Levent Duman & Mehmet Emin Erendor   

Affiliation: Adana Alparslan Türkeş Science and Technology University, Türkiye

Organization/Publisher: Conflict Studies Quarterly

Date/Place: January 2024/ Romania

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 27

Link: https://www.csq.ro/wp-content/uploads/1-Levent-DUMAN.pdf  

 

Keywords: Turkish-American Relations, Turkish Foreign Policy, US Middle East Policy, US Invasion of Iraq

 

Brief:

This paper aims to understand the history of US-Türkiye bilateral relationship, and especially the role of Iraq in shaping their relations over the past thirty years. The authors argue that the US military intervention in Iraq coinciding with the end of the Cold War was one of the most enduring areas of disagreement and cooperation between the two countries. They state that disagreement over Iraq remained a focal point in US-Türkiye relations, particularly due to conflicting priorities. The policies of the two countries regarding Iraq have led to many agreements and disagreements between the two nations. While some disagreements have turned into crises, mutual interests have facilitated overcoming these differences. In this context, the brief examines US-Türkiye relations during the Cold War, followed by US post-Cold War Iraq policies and their impacts on US-Türkiye relations, divided into three sections and a conclusion.

 

 

The paper begins by mentioning that after the establishment of the Republic of Türkiye under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s leadership, Turkish foreign policy aimed at maintaining independence and protecting the new regime. Under İsmet İnönü’s presidency after Atatürk’s passing away, Turkey maintained its neutrality during World War II while seeking economic and military support. The demands of the Soviet Union on Türkiye are said to have encouraged close relations with the USA. During this period, the USA strengthened Türkiye against the Soviet threat by supporting Türkiye’s NATO membership and Cold War policies. However, the 1964 Cyprus crisis and the subsequent US attitude towards Türkiye created crises in the relationship. The Turkish intervention in Cyprus in 1974 and the subsequent US arms embargo temporarily strained relations. However, relations revived with the lifting of the embargo in 1978. The 1980 military coup did not affect US-Türkiye relations, and cooperation between the two countries continued. Although there were some changes in relations with the end of the Cold War, cooperation between the US and Türkiye continued.

 

Meanwhile, the Middle East occupies a significant place in US foreign policy due to its control over more than half of the world’s oil reserves. Additionally, various national interests such as ensuring Israel’s security, maintaining stability in the region, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and obstructing the rise of a hostile power to the USA are also important. During the Cold War, the main focus of the US in the region was to prevent Soviet dominance. However, with the end of the Cold War, US concerns shifted, and the rise of enemy regimes threatening US interests became a central concern for American policymakers. The brief examines US post-Cold War Iraq policy, starting from support during the Iran-Iraq War, through the invasion of Kuwait, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. During this process, US military intervention in Iraq and subsequent policy decisions are also examined. In the changing international environment of the 1990s, US-Türkiye relations were reshaped. Relations between the two countries became even more important with the increasing instability in the Middle East after the end of the Cold War. Turkey strengthened these relations by supporting the US-led UN coalition in the 1990/91 Gulf War.

 

Türkiye’s Iraq policy included supporting UN resolutions and resisting Saddam Hussein’s pressures. Crises in Iraq and the threat of the PKK influenced Türkiye’s regional policy. Türkiye improved its relations with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq while conducting operations against the PKK. The US and Türkiye worked together on developments in Iraq, but faced differences on some issues. US-Türkiye relations grew in complexity with the end of the Cold War. Disagreements over policies towards Iraq between Türkiye and the US led to tensions in their bilateral relationship. However, mutual interests maintained a strong relationship and helped overcome differences. Especially, a setback in relations occurred in 2003 after Türkiye refused to allow the US to use its territory in its invasion of Iraq, and Türkiye’s support for the US weakened. Finally, the emergence of ISIS as a result of US Iraq policies affected relations and strained Türkiye’s sensitivities towards US support for the YPG.

 

The relationship between Türkiye and the US has been crucial for Türkiye since the end of World War II. During the Cold War, the US was the mainstay of Türkiye security against the Soviet threat. While relations between the two countries began positively during the Cold War, developments throughout the period occasionally led to tensions, even to the brink of rupture. However, during these times of relaxation or near-breakdown in relations, developments in  international conjuncture allowed for the re-establishment and development of relations between the two countries.

 

However, the end of this period has brought about uncertainties in future connections due to evolving global threats. Despite these changes, both countries have shared interests in various areas in the post-Cold War period. However, changing priorities have led to more frequent disagreements between the US and Türkiye. While both sides acknowledge that finding common ground in this fluctuating period may be challenging, these disagreements have not prevented cooperation on many important issues.

 

In March 2003, the consequences of the Turkish parliament rejecting a motion that would allow the US to open a northern front into Iraq from Turkish territory led to a deterioration in US-Türkiye relations. Despite Türkiye allowing the use of its airspace during the 2003 Iraq War, the dynamics between the two nations seemed to shift more towards necessity rather than a tight alliance.

 

The emergence of the ISIS terrorist organization as a result of US policies in Iraq influenced Iraq’s territorial integrity and the course of relations between Türkiye and the US. The fundamental reason for this problem is that the US trained the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK, to fight ISIS in Syria without taking Türkiye’s sensitivities into account.

 

Taking a long-term perspective on US-Türkiye relations into account, it is clear that relations between the two countries will continue to fluctuate. The key point to be noted here is that at the current time the US has not taken into account Türkiye’s sensitivities, and therefore, relations between the two countries have deteriorated. Türkiye supported the US and took a stance against terrorism during the September 11 attacks, but the same sensitivity was not shown by the US, and the activities of terrorist organizations in the region since the start of the Iraq war process will also affect future relations between the two countries.

 

By: Dilara Özdemir, CIGA Research Assistant

 

 

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