Turkey’s vehicle manufacturing powerhouse Otokar has unveiled a new 35 ton armored infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) at the IDEF 2013 international defense industry fair.
Appropriately named ‘Tulpar’ after the Turkic mythological horse with wings that protects warriors in battle, the vehicle is operated by a crew of three (driver, gunner and commander) and can transport a squad of nine fully equipped soldiers to the front lines while providing fire support to other units. A front located 810HP diesel engine and automatic transmission allow for a maximum speed of 70km/h and a range of 340 km.
Tulpar is armed with the Mizrak turret assembly featuring a 30mm dual-fed automatic main gun and 7.62mm coaxial secondary gun, all wired to a state-of-the-art fire control system (FCS) provided by Aselsan. All the guns are remotely controlled and can land their shots on target with high precision courtesy of an array of 8 high-tech cameras with night vision/infrared assist, zoom, laser range finder and target designator, also giving Tulpar 360 degree situational awareness day and night, under all weather conditions.
Tulpar’s modular armor allows for different levels of protection depending on configuration, quick swap of any damaged components during maintenance and provides protection against up-to 25mm armor piercing projectiles, a best-in-class in this category of vehicles. Furthermore, an arc shaped, enforced composite structure underneath the hull allows Tulpar to survive mine blasts with up to 10kg of TNT. Tulpar comes equipped with an automatic fire suppression system, an APU and provides full NBC protection to its occupants.
Designed with the needs of 21st century land warfare, Tulpar is fully network-centric. Standard systems include command and control computer, software defined digital radios, satellite communications, FCS and laser threat warning sensors. Otokar is considering the integration of the L-UMTAS long-range antitank missiles as a future upgrade option for the TSK and export customers.
Hardly a day passes without a Turkish defense company proudly announcing that it has designed, developed and produced a weapon system the country would normally buy off-the-shelf from a foreign supplier. The most recent indigenously developed Turkish weapon is an anti-tank missile, the UMTAS.
Turkish military officials are anxiously awaiting the first serial production and delivery of the UMTAS.
“After years of going from one foreign supplier to another, we are happy to have our companies providing us with national solutions,” a senior Army official said.
Procurement officials said the UMTAS has recently undergone several successful field tests.
“This system can quickly find foreign buyers and mark an impressive transformation [of Turkey] from an import-dependent country into an exporting one,” one procurement official said. “It is relatively low-cost and reliable.”
State-owned missile maker Roketsan initiated the long-range anti-tank UMTAS missile project in efforts, first, to meet local demand from the Turkish Armed Forces, and later to export it, especially to countries in the region.
The UMTAS, with its infrared imaging and laser-seeker options, is an anti-tank missile with a range of 8 kilometers to be used in air-to-ground and ground-to-ground operations.
Roketsan officials said the system is going through further tests for technical properties and compatibility with environmental conditions. Thus far, the system has completed ballistic-missile tests and controlled-missile tests, and its sub-system design has been finished, they said.
The UMTAS is considered the official anti-tank system for the T-129, the helicopter gunship Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is co-producing with Italian-British AgustaWestland in a US $3.2 billion project. It also can be integrated into the Anka, Turkey’s first locally developed unmanned aircraft. Other potential platforms to be outfitted with the UMTAS are armored land vehicles and naval vessels.
Turkey’s navy and national intelligence organization MIT have agreed to jointly procure a high-tech ship for collecting electronic intelligence from newly arising regional threats in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, has been tasked for launching a local tender for the construction of the new ship using Turkey’s indigenous capabilities to their fullest extent.
“Turkey has earmarked $120 million for the construction effort of Turkey’s first large scale intelligence ship.” a TR Defence source familiar with the programs of the Turkish Navy reported on Friday. “This will be a dedicated SIGINT/ELINT ship that will bear a number of advanced electronic capabilities, but will lack heavy weapons.”
Several countries currently use similar electronic intelligence ships for spying on the military transmissions of target states, finding and exploiting secret radar installations, eavesdropping on and decrypting sensitive information as well as actively jamming compromised enemy communications during war time. The ship is said to be used in conjunction with Turkey’s new Gokturk series of surveillance satellites planned for launch in 2013 and 2014.
Project will be managed by SSM and follow the successful footsteps of the Milgem program. Once complete in 2015, the ship will join Turkish Navy inventory but will be partially operated by MIT in line with Turkey’s widely varying intelligence gathering needs.
It is also expected to actively participate in NATO missions and exercises around the world.
The epicenter of world diplomacy related to solving the Syrian crisis has begun to shift toward Moscow, as multiple diplomatic visitors converge on the Kremlin, beginning with U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The busy schedule of visits can be seen as an extension of last week’s series of meetings between Syrian opposition groups and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Syria peace mediator Annan is expected to land in Moscow today for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said yesterday that Annan would arrive in Moscow today and meet Putin the following day for talks in which “Russia will underscore its support for the peace plan of Kofi Annan.” “The Russian side proceeds from the premise that this plan is the only viable platform for solving internal Syrian problems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Annan was also scheduled to meet Lavrov, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travels to China, a country that, along with Russia, has blocked two U.N. Security Council resolutions placing sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
This will be Annan’s second visit to Moscow since he won support from former President Dmitry Medvedev for his initial six-point peace initiative. Lavrov met with the head of the opposition Syrian National Council last week, without any sign of a change in his stance on the possible ways to resolve the 16-month conflict. Russia said last week that it will oppose a new U.N. resolution on Syria that is militarily enforceable.
“History will judge this council,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said July 13, referring to Russia’s veto threat. “Its members must ask themselves whether continuing to allow the al-Assad regime to commit unspeakable violence against its own people is the legacy they want to leave,” she said, after reports of new killings in Tremseh.
Syria, energy, Middle East on the agenda
A day after Putin meets Annan, the Russian president will welcome Erdoğan to discuss the future of Syria, energy issues and the latest developments in the Middle East. Although not on the agenda, the Turkish jet downed on June 22 is also expected to be discussed between the two statesmen, according to diplomatic sources speaking to Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
According to Turkish officials, Erdoğan is expected to ask for any records about the plane that Moscow has. The U.S. and the U.K. have recently handed over the information they had on the Turkish jet. Russia’s foreign minister said June 30 that Russia possesses “objective observation data” concerning the downing of the Turkish jet, and is prepared to present it.
Thanks to a consultation mechanism established by the foreign ministries of both countries, delegations from Turkey and Russia are expected to meet in the fall within the framework of periodic meetings. During their meeting at the G20 summit in Los Cabos last month, the two leaders agreed to meet privately before the fall meetings. In a phone call on June 27, Putin and Erdoğan discussed the situation in Syria and agreed to meet on July 18 in Moscow. Russia, Syria’s main ally, has firmly resisted any form of outside pressure on al-Assad to step aside.
Although Armenian politicians in their initial statements about the possibility of normalization of this country’s strained relations with Turkey following the parliamentary elections last Sunday were not upbeat, most people continue to expect to see an improvement in the troubled relationship between the two countries, urging Turkey to open its border with Armenia.
Sagis, a 57-year-old lottery ticket seller in Yerevan, who didn’t want to give his last name like many people here, says his great grandfather came to Armenia from Turkey’s Muş province. He said, “Neighbors should be friends.” Azniv, an 85-year-old retired teacher, told us, “We don’t need enemies, we need friendship.” According to Arman, a 37-year-old businessman who is country director of Fedex in Yerevan, Turkey and Armenia have no choice but to normalize their relations because they are neighbors.
Most Armenians here say the symbolic step in that direction would be for Turkey to open its border with Armenia, which it closed in 1993 following the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani soil, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tigren, 33, the co-manager of a Pizza Hut in Yerevan, says: “The border has to be opened. It will be good for us economically.”
The city that wants the border to be reopened most is Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia with a population of 160,000. Gyumri’s rundown streets and the visible poverty level of the city are in high contrast with the well-maintained streets of Yerevan.
Alexander Ter Minasiyon, a tourism agency operator in the city, says: “In Gyumri we know the difficulty of living in a border town near a closed border. To get to Kars, which is only 90 kilometers away, we travel 497 kilometers via Georgia. We lose about 10,000 tourists every year,” noting that the city of Kars on the Turkish border also wants the border to be opened. He added that there is a Russian base on the Armenian part of the border facing the Ani ruins [in Kars], and the soldiers don’t allow tourists to even look at the site across the border.
“The financial cost of the border being closed is huge. I don’t agree with the politicians who say we can get along without Turkey. We are losing a lot,” says Levon Barseghyan, who notes that Turkish products cost 30 times what they should cost because they are delivered through Georgia.
Vahan Khachatryan, a businessman who owns Gala TV, a network that broadcasts in the Gyumri region, says he has been looking for a Turkish partner for his soap manufacturing business, noting that the border being closed is causing delays in communication and transportation.
The irony lies in the Russian military units near the border that Gyumri wants to see open. The Russians are protecting the population from a “potential threat” from Turkey. There are also Russian troops and a radar unit inside the town.
Border towns on the other side are also suffering from the situation. “The illicit trade between Turkey and Armenia as of 2011 had reached a volume of around $280 million, according to unofficial figures,” says Noyan Soyak from the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC).
“It is possible to say that this figure can increase up to three times in a very short period. Opening the border would ensure that goods from the eastern and southeastern Anatolian regions arrive in Yerevan in four to five hours, shortening the time greatly,” Soyak adds. “We perceive the possibility of the trade volume between Turkey and Armenia reaching $1 billion, including tourism revenue, in three years if the border were open,” he said.
According to the TABDC, the most attractive sectors for Turkish traders and investors are textiles, machinery and the food industry, and, of course, there is great potential for untouched sectors such as transportation, energy and information technologies.
But Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister and an important figure in the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which came in second place in the elections, points to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as the main obstacle to opening the border. He said: “So our focus should be on Nagorno-Karabakh. If we can solve that problem, then Turkey will open the border.”
Gyumrian artist Aleksey Manukyan says: “The Karabakh issue is costing us dearly. We still have an eastern mentality; we can’t act pragmatically. People don’t voice this openly, but such is the situation.”
One person who can’t wait to see the day the border is opened is Karine Petrosyan, the chief of the Akhurian Train Station. She remembers that the last train from Turkey arrived in Akhurian in April of 1993. “I will retire 10 years from now. I want to see that train again before I retire.” She says the village of Akhurik, after which the station is named, has been affected negatively by the border closing. Many young people left the village. There are also people who say Turkey should first recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 as genocide. One such person is Eleonora, a 25-year-old bank clerk. “We can’t possibly normalize our relations before Turkey admits the genocide.” Armen Pahlevenyan, a taxi driver in Gyumri, agrees. “Nothing can be described as normal unless Turkey recognizes the genocide,” said Pahlevenyan, whose great grandfather had to migrate to Gyumri from Kars.
Nana (19), a university student from Gyumri, says once Turkey recognizes the genocide, the past will stop haunting both countries.
Others, yet, prefer to look to the future instead of setting the genocide as a prerequisite for better relations. Smbat, a 55-year-old Armenian who didn’t want to give his second name, also has his roots in Kars. His family was forced to come to Yerevan during the 1915 incidents. “Whatever happened is in the past. We should now open the border. We want a better life for ourselves and for our children. We, as Armenians, aren’t after revenge. We want good neighborly relations. And Turkey should also want this.” Milla Kazanian (21) of Yerevan also agrees, saying: “The past is in the past. Now is the time to look forward. The border should reopen, and our relations should go back to normal.” Felix, an 18-year-old university student, said, “The past shouldn’t be an obstacle to the normalization of ties, but we would like Turkey to recognize the genocide.” On the Turkish side, there is concern that recognition would bring up the issue of reparations.
Galust Sahakyan, leader of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) parliamentary faction, meanwhile, indicated that Armenian leaders had their own red lines that will take priority over any form of reconciliation pact. He said at a meeting with a group of Turkish journalists on Friday, “For us, the Karabakh problem and the genocide issue are more important than a restart in relations with Turkey.”
“It is not enough to admit and then to apologize. Responsibilities such as returning land and paying compensation should also be fulfilled,” says Giro Manoyan, from the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a socialist party that nevertheless is known for its staunch Armenian nationalism. The votes for the party fell from 12 percent in the 2007 elections to 5 percent in this year’s elections.
Gala TV owner Khachatryan says: “What’s important is that Turkey opens the border. When people can freely interact, they will say ‘we are sorry.’ The historical facts of the past should be accepted, and we should all look forward.”
Cobra armored infantry fighting vehicle is expected to be produced in Kazakhstan, a close ally with whom Turkey shares cultural, historic and linguistic ties.
Otokar, producer of the Cobra IFV and Kazakhstan Engineering has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the production of an undisclosed number of Cobra vehicles. According to the agreement, a new joint venture will be formed and Otokar will provide technical assistance and know how in order to facilitate the assembly of the vehicles locally in Kazakhstan.
Cobra is a lightweight, armored, all terrain vehicle featuring a modular design that can be customized for a wide range of missions including amphibious operations. The vehicle has so far achieved significant export success and is operational in over ten countries.
Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry has disclosed a new five-year strategic plan, which finalizes completion dates for key projects including Turkish-made tanks, aircraft, satellites, destroyers, and helicopters, in a bid to lift the country’s defense industry into a higher league.
Altay, the Turkish-made tank project, will be complete by the end of 2015, the plan says. The first Turkish destroyer will be delivered in 2016. Atak, an attack helicopter, and Anka, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will be delivered in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
More than 280 projects have been carried out since 2011, according to the new 2012-2016 strategic plan. The total value of the contracts the undersecretariat signed last year was about $27.3 billion.
Top 10 Within Five Years
The plan envisages Turkey’s defense industry entering the top 10 worldwide within five years. The total turnover target for defense and aerospace industry exports for 2016 is $2 billion, out of an overall industry turnover of $8 billion, according to the plan.
Turkey will establish liaison offices in the Middle East, the Far East, the U.S., the Caucasus-Central Asia, and in Europe (EU-NATO). The undersecretariat will encourage collaboration between prime contractors, sub-industries, and small and medium enterprises, with universities and research institutions improving the technological base.
The Turkish government will support the establishment of testing and certification centers that meet international standards, in order to meet non-military and non-public sector demands. A land vehicle test center, a high-speed wind tunnel, an aerial vehicle flight test field, a missile systems test field, a satellite assembly center, and an integration and testing center will be among these facilities, according to the strategic plan.
Arms Projects Timetable
The strategic defense plan has laid out dates for the deadlines to manufacture the first domestically produced prototypes in the local defense industry.
A radar observation satellite will be ready by 2016.
The third-generation of the main battle tank, Altay, will be manufactured by the end of 2015.
The first destroyer will be delivered to the Turkish Navy by the end of 2016. Studies regarding development of a submarine will be completed by 2015.
Atak, a national attack helicopter, will be delivered by 2013. An all-purpose helicopter will be delivered by the end of 2016.
The mass production of a national infantry rifle starts in July.
Hürkuş, a training aircraft designed by TUSAŞ, and Anka, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will be delivered to the Turkish Air Force by the end of 2015 and 2014 respectively. And a jet motor prototype will be ready by 2016.
Long-range and medium-range anti-tank rocket systems will be in the inventory of the Turkish army by the end of 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Semi Active Laser Guided Missile, CIRIT, will be mass produced and integrated to ATAKs by the end of 2013.
Low and medium altitude air defense systems will be designed by the end of 2016.
Israeli military officials say the Tel Aviv regime plans to sign a major arms deal worth USD 1.6 billion with Azerbaijan.
The officials said on Sunday Israel Aerospace Industries will sell “drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems worth USD 1.6 billion” to Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, Israeli media said Angolan Finance Minister Carlos Alberto Lopes has traveled to Israel to sign a military agreement.
Reports say the Israeli-Angolan deal is worth about USD 1 billion.
The latest report on the Israeli military agreements comes a couple of days after Israeli officials said on February 16 the Tel Aviv regime had reached a “USD-one-billion preliminary” agreement with Italy to buy 30 Italian military training jets.
“The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is reordering political dynamics not only in Baghdad but also in the broader Middle East. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a number of actors are seeking to fill the outsized role that America has played in Iraq over the last eight years.” says Sean Kane in his report ‘The Coming Turkish-Iranian Competition in Iraq’. “The two rising powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, share borders with Iraq and are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country.”
In this analysis, we will focus on the rivalry between these two rising powers in Iraq. Although it seems that the relations between Turkey and Iran are getting better in recent times, Iraq has become litmus paper in order to understand the real face of this friendly relationship. After a bit the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, first signals of conflict of interests between these countries began to emerge.
Neo-Ottoman and Neo-Persian Competition?
“From the sixteenth century until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Iraqi history was largely determined by the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians. After Persia converted to Shiism, control of Shia holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Samarra became symbolically significant to the Safavids, and the Ottomans tried to maintain Iraq as a Sunni buffer against the spread of the rival sect. In this centuries-long struggle, military conflict between the two empires focused on Mesopotamia rather than Asia Minor.” says Sean Kane. “The last century—the British mandate in Iraq, several decades of a strong independent Iraqi state, and the post-2003 American occupation—has been a hiatus from the historical pattern of Turkish and Iranian struggle for preeminence in Iraq. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw by December 2011, and the Iraqi state is not yet reconsolidated. Is competition among the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires likely to resume?”
I do not agree with Sean Kane in his categorization and approach because it is possible to skip political categorizations of 21st century when we get to the historical roots of this competition. In other words, secular/religious and cultural Islam/political Islam categorizations are more suitable for me in understanding this issue. If we pass over the Turkish model in the region and ethnical and sectarian divisions in Iraq, historical reasons will be more attractive to us. So, we should look at the different elements of this equation.
As Iraqi foreign minister Hoyshar Zebari says, this is the fact that today, Iran and Turkey are the biggest players and rivals inside Iraq. Soner Cagaptay, from Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, witnesses to this reality so: “Although both Turkey and Iran opposed the Iraq war at first, the fact that they have supported opposing camps in successive Iraqi elections has rekindled their competition. Today, Ankara and Tehran eye each other warily; neither wants the other to have more influence in Baghdad or over the Iraqi Kurds.”
Revelation of competition after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces
“The efforts of the Shi’ite to have a control over the fate of Iraq half-opened the way going towards the split. The Shi’ite Prime Minister Maliki’s show of force, his trying to push the Sunni out of the cabinet and the political course, his lashing out at Turkey, and Iran’s using itself for Syrian politics should be assessed as the first steps in Iraq going towards split.” says Cetiner Cetin, ORSAM Advisory Board Member.
As he mentioned, in the last period, Nouri al-Maliki revealed the coldness they have had with Turkey for a long time by indicating that they are concerned about Turkey’s interfering, rather than Iran’s, in the Iraqi internal affairs. “Right after the accusing and critical statements of Maliki, who draws his strength mainly from Iran, about Turkey, his accusing political attempts against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al Hashimi, who is known for his close relations with Turkey, and against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak are actually the first signals showing that there will be attempts to block Turkey’s effectiveness following the U.S. withdrawal.” he said.
Here, we want to focus on the roots of this competition.
The roots of this competition
“Eighteenth-century English statesman Lord Palmerston famously stated that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” says Sean Kane. “The starting point for forecasting the direction of Iranian-Turkish relations is therefore to examine each country’s interests in their old battleground of Mesopotamia.”
As he said, their political sway was made clear during Iraq’s extended 2010 cycle of government formation, when they were respectively instrumental in consolidating the two leading political groupings: Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya and Nouri al-Maliki’s National Alliance. While Turkey’s preference represents ‘secularism’; Iran’s preference represents ‘religious viewpoint’.
“Although Turkey and Iran have a lot of grounds on which to cooperate — the number of Iranians coming to Turkey last year was 2 million — the two countries struggling for leadership in the region have also opposing interests.” says Aydin Albayrak. “Iran is a major actor in Iraq, where it supports Shiite groups, whereas Turkey tends to support the secular movement while still maintaining good relations with Shiite elements.”
This means that although Iran and Turkey have good relations, their viewpoints are different from each other. “The relationship between Turkey and Iran has received heightened attention in the United States since the effort by Turkey and Brazil to negotiate a deal on the handling of Iran’s nuclear fuel in mid-2010. Although Ankara argues that Turkey’s new foreign policy platform of ‘zero problems’ with its neighbors and independent stance toward Western policy in the region poses no contradiction to its traditional Western alliances, some American policymakers and analysts view this approach as a realpolitik move by Turkey to reorient itself to the Muslim world, including Iran, based on Turkish economic and energy interests. Others believe that, despite this shift, Turkish and Iranian relations remain dominated by mutual mistrust and that the two countries view themselves as competitors for influence and preeminence in the region.” says Sean Kane. “More recently, a flurry of analyses has looked at Turkish and Iranian involvement in Iraq and whether the two countries consciously consider themselves rivals there.”
In addition to these, according to Joschka Fischer, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to maintain good relations with Iran, its ambition to become the leading Sunni power means that Turkey must sooner or later contest Iran’s influence in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Palestine. And that means conflict.
On the other hand, there are some commentators who reject the claims about the rivalry between Turkey and Iran. “Marina Ottaway disagrees specifically with the notion of a Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Iraq, arguing that Turkey has no interest in antagonizing Iran by playing the Sunni card in Iraq and has shown through its votes at the United Nations that it values good relations with Iran.”
What are roles of Iran and Turkey in Iraq?
“Ankara is now Tehran’s most viable rival for preeminence in the region, but compared to Iran, it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action.” said Alakbar Raufoglu. “With less than two months before American troops withdraw from Iraq, the question of whether Turkey is prepared to take the necessary actions to play a leading role in the region remains unclear. If Turkey fails, it risks ceding its influence to Iran.”
Moreover, according to Cetiner Cetin, now, we can more clearly see the fact that Iran does not intend to leave Iraq to anyone after the withdrawal of the U.S.
“The timing of the crisis shows that after the withdrawal of the U.S., Iran is not intended to leave Iraq to anyone else.” says Assist. Prof. Serhat Erkmen. “Another dimension of the timing of crisis is the fact that it came right after Maliki’s accusing and critical statements on Turkey. As it is well known, some time ago, Maliki revealed the distance with Turkey they have had for a long time by stating that he has hesitations not because of the possibility that Iran could interfere in the Iraqi internal affairs but that Turkey could do it so, in a statement he made to one of the U.S. journals.”
As we can see, many commentators and writers fear Iranian influence in Iraq. For them, Turkey is a balanced element in Iraq and they prefer secular Turkey to religious Iran.
“Turkey has the advantages of being neither Arab nor Persian and of demonstrating a newfound distance from Western powers. Its strategic goal of becoming an energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe also gives it a compelling economic interest in a unified and prosperous Iraq fueled by increased hydrocarbon production.” says Sean Kane. “Iran, on the other hand, has the advantage of religious and cultural ties with the majority of Iraq’s population, but its involvement in the country is toxic for the minority Sunni population and watched warily by all Iraqi nationalists.”
Additionally, according to him, “Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to represent the starkest opposing tendencies in Iraq, but Turkish influence is the most significant regional counterweight to Iranian preeminence. That Turkey is not identified with either pole of the region’s toxic ethnic (Arab-Persian) and religious (Saudi Wahhabi–Iranian Rule of the Jurist) divides means that it has greater acceptance in Iraq and potential for positive input. From the Iraqi Shia point of view, Turkey, despite being Sunni Muslim, is not perceived as a source of terrorist attacks in Iraq or intolerance toward Shiism in the way that the Wahhabi creed is.”
Here, it is required to look at the commonalities and differences between Iranian and Turkish policies in the region. Sean Kane summarizes these topics briefly:
“First, the commonalities. Both emphasize maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, particularly as it relates to their own restive Kurdish minorities, and avoiding a return to all-out sectarian conflict. Both also, somewhat reluctantly, accept the model of a federalized Iraq, but likely differ on the extent of decentralization this should entail.
It is on who should rule Baghdad and how that Ankara and Tehran have profound differences. As a secular democracy, Turkey publicly advocates for a genuine political process and broad, representative, and inclusive Iraqi governments in which no single group dominates. Although in practice tinged by its own Sunni orientation, particularly since the Islamist AKP came to office, Turkish political activity in Iraq does not approach Iran’s overtly sectarian approach. Tehran’s irreducible priority continues to be to ensure a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that would turn a traditional security threat into a friendly state.
Tehran and Ankara also differ in their reactions to the U.S. policy goal of a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq capable of positively influencing regional stability. Turkish officials assert that they cannot overemphasize the importance of a stable Iraq to Turkey, remarking that Turkey has paid a heavy price whenever Iraq is not stable, and that when Iraq is stable, the region is stable. The view from Tehran is radically different. Iraq has since ancient times been a rival and, more recently, a check to Iranian influence in the Middle East. This latter role encompasses the disastrous eight-year war Saddam Hussein launched in 1980, which included chemical weapons strikes against Iranian cities and the death and injury of as many as a million Iranians. Given this history, the prevalent view among Iran’s academic and political elite toward Baghdad is still one of mistrust and perceived threat. In fact, it is the veterans of that conflict that now rule Iran and they largely prefer a relatively weak, divided, and passive neighbor incapable of posing a future political or conventional military threat.
The third major area of diverging interests is trade. Both Turkey and Iran are vying to become Iraq’s leading commercial partner. Turkey sees Iraq as an integral part of its effort to become the economic bridge from the Middle East to Europe. Iran sees an opportunity to shift Iraqi trade eastward, away from its traditional orientation to the Arab world and Turkey, as part of its effort to become the connection between the Middle East and central Asia. Iran estimates its 2009 trade with Iraq at between $4 billion and $5 billion and has set a goal of increasing this to $20 billion within two years. Turkey estimates its own Iraqi trade at greater than $6 billion and expects it to grow to $20 billion within four years. In an ironic twist, the Kurdistan region has become the Turkish economic beachhead into Iraq, and Turkish companies now have leading roles in the construction, trade, and energy sectors in the north of the country. Iran, meanwhile, has the pride of place in southern and central Iraq, where it has become a leading investor in infrastructure, energy, and religious pilgrimage projects. Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani sees this as part of Iran seeking to realize a key foreign policy goal of establishing a ‘sphere of influence’ in Iraq’s southern provinces.
Despite the importance of trade with Iraq to both Iran and Turkey, the future of Iraq’s energy sector is even more significant and yet another area of difference. Turkey is not significant oil or gas producer but instead a rapidly growing hydrocarbon consumer. Moreover, a key strategic plank of its neo-Ottoman foreign policy is to become the main energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. As a hydrocarbon consumer and transit point, Turkey stands to gain on two fronts from dramatically increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production. Consequentially, Turkish state-owned and private energy companies have directly invested in six gas and oil fields in southern and central Iraq and are major players in oil exploration efforts in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iran is a hydrocarbon exporter, and, though it has explored gas transit deals with Iraq, its ability to tap its own vastly underexploited oil and gas reserves is precluded by international sanctions. Iraq’s ability to move forward with major international investment that Tehran cannot even contemplate for the forseeable future. Even partial Iraqi success in production increases could see Iraq overtaking Iranian production levels by 2015, and OPEC production quotas would therefore have to be recalculated.
Any possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the final point of difference between the two countries. The Turkish parliament famously refused to provide permission for U.S. troops to use Turkey as an invasion route in 2003. Privately, however, they now express support for a small, continued U.S. presence in Iraq after 2011 on the basis of worries about Iranian dominance in Baghdad and the future of the trilateral security mechanism established between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 2008 for combating the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). This mechanism, from the Turkish perspective, has proven useful in addressing a top national security concern and provided a diplomatic channel through which Turkey was able to conduct its outreach to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For Iran, the national security priority is the departure of ‘encircling’ U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran lobbied against the 2008 Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States that authorized the American military presence in the country until December 2011.”
When we compare the commonalities and differences in their policies, we can say that although it seems the direct opposite, their agenda is very different.
In that case, why many Western and American analysts emphasize the role of Turkey as a balanced element. If we can understand the expectations from Turkey in Iraq, it will be easy to show the whole picture.
What are the expectations from Turkey?
“Some suggest that the withdrawal of US troops has finally opened a new space for Iran to maneuver in the region that will strengthen Iranian domination. Some Turkish analysts suggest that the new Iraq is nothing but a new axis of an Iran-Damascus pact that enables Iran to have free geographical access from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.” says Emre Uslu, from Today’s Zaman Newspaper. “ Against this argument, some US experts, including political science professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT, think that ‘fears of Iranian domination of Iraq rest on the premise that Iraqi Shi’a identify so strongly as Shi’a and so little as Arabs or Iraqis that they will accept domination by Shi’a Iran. In fact, however, Iraqi Shi’a have a strong identity as Arabs and Iraqis. They have affinity for other Shi’a, but will not accept Iran or other non-Iraqis as overlords. Iranian dominance of Iraq is not in the cards’.”
In my opinion, this comment is very optimistic. It is a fact that the U.S. is afraid of Iranian influence and its receipt for this fear is Turkey’s balanced role.
As Vladimir van Wilgenburg mentions, a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace suggests that Washington should be less concerned about increased cooperation between Turkey and Iran because the two countries have different visions for the Middle East, suggesting that the “renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades.”
In addition to this reality, as we said before, it is very difficult to find any conflict between American and Turkish interests. So, many Western analysts suggest that Ankara’s engagement will be critical in limiting Iran and Syria’s (mostly negative) influence in Iraq.
“Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the American Interest magazine, said Turkish success in Iraq would lead to a less pro-Iranian coalition in Baghdad, referring to Turkey’s rivalry over the country.
Mead connected any Turkish success in the Middle East as equal to Iran’s failure. He said ideologically, Turkey hopes to lead the Sunni Islam world while Iran aspires to lead the entire Islamic world. He also added that the same thing could be applied to Syria where Turkey’s success there could be spelled as Iran’s failure as well as loss of Iranian ties to Hamas.”
Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, also, says Iraq’s other Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait — should stop isolating Iraq’s Shiite government and embrace it instead. If they don’t, he says, then Iraq will only be pushed closer to Iran.
Moreover, “They (Turkey) are doing this throughout Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in Baghdad and even Basra, which is not usually an area of Turkish influence,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “The presence of a Turkish consulate in Basra is very much part of a strategy to dam in Iranian influence in Iraq through investments and trade.”
According to diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish daily Milliyet, Ankara shares Washington’s concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. “The increase of the Iranian through Shia elements in Iraq, that is what Turkey will be worried about,” said Idiz. “And with Turkey there is a political competition going on for influence between Iran and Turkey.”
In addition to this, as Dorian Jones mentions, last month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Washington has proposed to take over the influential role of training Iraqi military personal, now that U.S. troops are pulling out.
“We have been contributing in training military elements in Iraq within the framework of NATO,” said Unal. “This issue has come up to the agenda, and of course, we will be considering it. According to Dorian Jones, such a move is seen as strengthening Turkey’s influence in greater Iraq and countering what observers say is expected growing Iranian influence with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
When we look at the picture from this side, it, unfortunately, seems to us that Turkey’s regional role is shaping around the Western and American interests in addition to its own interests. This Turkey is distant from being an alternative to Shi’a-Sunni polarizations. It means that Turkey sooner or later contests Iran’s influence and interests in Iraq. It also refers to the Turkish role and model in the region:
“This is partly a replay of Ottoman era politics. The new Turkish Islamist government is eager to revive Turkey’s historical role as the leading power of the region. (Two hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire ruled everything from the Danube to the modern Iran/Iraq boundary and across North Africa as far as Algeria.) As Arab nationalism has failed and declined, Sunni Islam has replaced it as the leading political movement in much of that world. Arab nationalism was both secular and anti-Turkish; Arab nationalists regarded the Ottomans as an imperialist great power. But if Arabs look at the world through a religious lens, Istanbul used to be the seat of the Caliph.”
Is Iran the winner?
“When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003.” says Peter Van Buren. “Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.”
In parallel to this comment, according to some analysts, the real winner of the war in Iraq is neither the Iraqis, nor Americans, but the Iranians.
But, Emre Uslu does not agree with this approach. “Does this means that Iran will have the freedom to do whatever it wants in Iraq?” he asks. “A simple answer to this question is no. There are at least two reasons why that is. First, despite the fact that US troops have withdrawn from Iraq, US influence on Iraq still remains strong through US advisors and Iraqi dependence on US armaments. Therefore, the US would exert its influence on Iraqi leaders to limit Iranian domination in Iraq. Second, Iraq’s dependence on US weapons systems prevents Iraqi Shi’a leaders from opening up wholeheartedly to Iran. Therefore, beyond the identity issues to be considered, there are more complex issues for Iraqi leaders to consider when leading their country.”
“In the Middle East, there is room for one shah or sultan, but not a shah and a sultan.” says Soner Cagaptay. “Ankara and Tehran appear locked, once again, in their centuries-old competition to become the region’s dominant power.”
Although “Turkey adopted an attitude in favor of a broad-based government” in Iraq, Turkey prefers to be a side of the Iraqiyyah Party. Actually, this preference play along with a new Turkish role in the Middle East. As Sean Kane emphasizes, Turkey’s blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a more attractive regional template than Iran’s formula of Islamic theocracy and hard power.
This Turkey’s rising influence in Iraq will please the U.S. and Western countries. So, they encourage Turkey in order to be effective in Iraq. “Any attempt by Ankara to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq will likely strain relations with Tehran.” said Dorian Jones. “Those relations are already under pressure over Ankara’s support for the opposition against Tehran’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
On the other hand, as Veysel Ayhan mentions, “despite the fact that some Iranian writers argue that Iran defends the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, when one observes Iran’s policy over Iraq, it can be seen that Tehran has a policy of making relations with all the Iraqi groups.”
“This way, it is seen that it takes steps in directing all the groups in line with the interests of Iran or threatening them when needed.” he says. “It is also necessary to indicate that the countries defending the territorial integrity of Iraq are not pursuing a determined policy on this matter. On the other hand, the main target of the Iran regime is known to establish an Iraq that is easy to control and direct.”
As Brian M Downing emphasizes, sectarian conflict in Iraq is again a concern as the Shi’ite government seeks the arrest of a Sunni vice president whom they tie to an assassination team. But neither Turkey’s these approaches nor Iran’s privileged policies can solve the problems of Iraq. The stability and security in the region are not independently of the developments that may take place in Iraq and policies/influences of neighbouring countries.
In this game, Turkey should stay out of being a pawn for Western interests and adopt unique policies. In this way, Turkey may bring into a friendly connection with both Iraq and Iran. This approach will be approved from all the groups and fragments in Iraq.
Turkey is a traditional partner, and even more traditional rival at Russia’s southern borders. This 70,000,000-strong country is part of NATO, and the Turkic and Muslim people in Russia are the subject of Turkish “courtship.” Russia should be concerned about the strengthened power of the Turkish army that is already one of the top ten in the world.
Today, the Turkish army is the most organized, numerous and powerful state institution. Turkish army of half a million soldiers is the largest in size after the United States in the NATO military bloc. The Ministry of Defense of Turkey has five divisions: Air Force, Navy, The Army, Gendarmerie, and the Coast Guard.
Particular attention is paid to the creation of the modern Turkish arms. The efforts of the Turkish defense industry are aimed at developing and building their own aircraft, armored vehicles, tanks, and various electronics and missile weapons. Turkish Aerospace Industries Company is engaged in the development and manufacture of aircraft under license. The objective of this venture is the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles. It is important to note that most of the products produced by Turkish military companies are purchased by the national armed forces, and purchase volumes are constantly increasing. The Turkish fleet is larger than the fleet of any other country in the Black Sea due to the presence of new submarines and ships.
The foundation of the current Army was laid in 1920 by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The armed forces are the guardians of the republican regime and secular values, separation of Islam from the state.
The formation of the army took place in the country’s harsh defeat in World War I, when a major contribution to the emergence of the modern Turkish army was made by Soviet Russia. The Republic of Turkey at the end of the World War I has experienced the devastation and foreign intervention, and was not recognized by the world.
Vladimir Lenin decided to help the young breakaway republic with gold and weapons. The far-sighted policy of Ataturk, who argued that Turkey shares the sympathies of Soviet Russia to socialism and intends to conduct an uncompromising struggle against the Entente, played its role. As a result, the new Turkey in 1923 gained international recognition, and Atatürk was very grateful to Soviet Russia for military assistance. He often visited the Soviet Embassy, and the members of the Soviet delegation were sitting next to him in the military parades as honored guests.
The beginning of history of Turkish aviation refers specifically to the 1920s, when many Turkish pilots were sent to the Soviet Union where they were taught by the best pilots and trained in the Soviet parachute centers. After the death of Ataturk in 1938, the army, as his brainchild, became the bearer of the ideas of secular government and democracy. Today, even the political opponents of Atatürk ideas do not dare to openly criticize him, the army, or the republic, because these three concepts have merged together for the Turks, and, touching one of them you automatically touch the others.
Ataturk bequeathed to his country under no circumstances to engage in European military power. The Turkish leadership must be commended for not tempting fate and not sending the Turkish army to the fronts of World War II. The country has kept the army, and in 1945, while the rest of Europe was in ruins, it was relatively prosperous.
However, later Ataturk’s will was violated when, yielding to the pressure of various political circles, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes decided to “test the strength of the army”, sending it to Korea in 1950 as a member of national contingents in the UN. After providing the “assistance” to the Western countries, Turkey was accepted in NATO. It was justified by the fact that the USSR posed a greater threat to the sovereignty of the republic, and that the goal was to strengthen the army and repel possible aggression from the Soviet Union. In 1974 the Turkish army has demonstrated its preparedness when on early morning of July 20 the naval and air forces of the trained airborne units landed in Cyprus. The army of the “Greek” Cyprus was defeated in a day. Turkish aircraft bombed the airport in Nicosia, Cyprus National Guard barracks and armored units. Marines landed in Kyrenia and blocked the ports of Larnaca and Limassol.
The official reason for the invasion of Cyprus was the overthrow of President Makarios by coup and the massacre of his supporters. Fearing ethnic cleansing of Turkish Cypriots, the Turkish Chief of General Staff Sanjar ordered the operation “to establish peace in Cyprus.” Despite the fact that the status of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) remains open, the Turkish Army that brilliantly conducted the operation must be commended. In the 21st century, the Turkish military were involved in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the UN and NATO. They are stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia – provinces that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are fighting mainly on their territory with detachments of separatists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Today, there are increasingly more assumptions that Turkey is seeking domination in the Islamic world and creation of “Ottoman Empire-2.” These assumptions are in fact are not unfounded. In Istanbul, in particular, public institutions adorn the coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, along with a portrait of Ataturk.
President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are doing everything to diminish the army’s political role in the country. According to the amended constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party need not fear a military coup.
At the same time the Turkish army is very strong. Due to the geographical position of Turkey, its role is enormous. The country takes great interest in the political process in the Middle East and Arab world (in the context of the “Arab spring”). In addition, in the south-east Turkey an American missile defense system has been launched.
At some point in time, Russia and Turkey were at war with each other over 30 times. Now the Turks are actively “courting” the representatives of Muslim, particularly the Turkic peoples of Russia. Turkey is seeking to increase its influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Crimea. Finally, the Turkish army is one of the pillars of NATO. Today, Russia should pay special attention to its southern borders, where the powerful Turkish army is located.