Stratfor: Iran and Turkey’s Duel in Northern Iraq

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October 3, 2012 | 0155 GMT

When an Iraqi Cabinet spokesman called on Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday to abrogate all treaties allowing foreign bases or forces in the country, one of the region’s most dynamic and pivotal competitions escalated yet again.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.

At first glance, the announcement might appear to simply be an attempt by the Iranian-backed Iraqi government to prevent the United States from re-establishing a substantial military presence in Iraq that would threaten Iran’s western flank. But the United States has formally ended its military presence in Iraq already and no longer claims any bases there (though rumors are percolating that Washington is planning to send special operations forces to Iraq for “training missions.”) More likely, the move is directed primarily at Iraq’s northern neighbor, Turkey.

In 1995, when Turkey was facing a significant threat of Kurdish militant attacks, then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein signed a treaty with Ankara allowing Turkish forces to pursue militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known commonly as the PKK, inside Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish rebels have long maintained bases of operations in the Qandil Mountains near the Iraq-Iran border, so Turkey seized the opportunity to establish a formal military presence there, including roughly 2,000 troops, a few dozen tanks and some helicopters at a base in Dahuk province.

Seventeen years later, the Iraqi government is working with its Shiite counterpart in Tehran to push the Turks back across the eastern Taurus and Zagros Mountains, which loosely shape the autonomous Kurdish region. Turkey has robust economic, political, religious and military power, but it is still in the early stages of reasserting its regional influence. It does not appear that Turkey was expecting to face this level of resistance so soon.

Iran, meanwhile, has spent the past decade cultivating authority in the region by empowering Shiite communities across the Middle East, from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. So Tehran was quite naturally concerned when Turkey, a Sunni country with promising prospects, began to project power beyond its borders in recent years. And when the conflict in Syria intensified in the past year, the age-old geopolitical rivalry between the Turks and the Persians escalated once again. (Continue reading this article here.)