Iraq and Its Neighbours, speech at the United State Institute of Peace, Athens, 14-16 February 2006


Athens, 14-16 February 2006


Turkey’s geographic location offers both opportunities and challenges in terms of its foreign policy options.

Turkey has always been guided in its foreign policy considerations by the perennial desire to establish a belt of peace, stability, security and cooperation.

This is perhaps particularly valid today, because Turkey’s extended neighborhood is a conflict prone region. A host of major conflagrations in the Balkans, the Middle East, Iraq, the Caucasus or Afghanistan has all taken place in Turkey’s extended neighborhood.

Turkey remains as an island of stability in this troubled geography.


         Traditionally Iraq has been an important actor in contemporary Middle Eastern history, and, at the same time, Iraq is more than a neighbor for Turkey. There are close historical and cultural ties between Turkey and Iraq. For centuries, they both were part of the Ottoman State. There is a sizeable Turkmen community in Iraq, a people ethnically in close relation with Turks. There are innumerable divided families on both sides of Turkish Iraqi border. Furthermore Turkey and Iraq are the riparian countries of two major trans-boundary rivers of the Middle East, namely Euphrates and Tigris.

         The recent war in Iraq, and the events that occured in the aftermath represent an extremely important stage in the developments of post-Cold War international relations.

         As a result of the turbulent developments of the last three decades in and around Iraq, neighboring countries also had to face diverse fall-out effects, not of their own making, but simply because of their geographic proximity with Iraq.

         In the course of the last quarter of the last century, Iraq has twice occupied the territories of its neighbors and pursued oppressive domestic policies. These policies resulted in substantive damage to human life and property as well as to peace and stability in the region.

         The international community faces profound challenges because of the current state of affairs in Iraq.


         Iraq’s neighbors, on their part, have been unanimous in perceiving the growing need to engage in constructive diplomacy and cultivate stability inside and outside Iraq.

         Prior to the overthrow of the Saddam Regime, Turkey initiated consultations among the Foreign Ministers of Iraq’s neighbors. It was called the “Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Neighboring Countries of Iraq”. This meeting was convened eight times so far.

         During these meetings, Iraq’s neighbors voiced their support for early restoration of stability and peace in Iraq, renewed their commitment to their neighbor’s unity and integrity.

         Iraq’s neighbors are concerned by the sharp rise in violent insurgency and terrorism in Iraq.

         If Iraq fails to establish security, law and order, and to restore state authority, further ethnic and sectarian tensions and conflict may spread throughout the country.

         Neighbors of Iraq want a peaceful, united and stable Iraq that is well integrated into the international system, contributing to peace and development in the region.

         Neighbors want an Iraq that will not fail again.


         Turkey would like to see the new Iraq in peace with her neighbors as well as with its own people.

         Turkey is committed to support the territorial integrity and the political unity of Iraq.

         Turkey strongly supports the political transition process to achieve normalization in Iraq as soon as possible.

         Turkey plays an active role in the NATO training mission. We trained 54 Iraqi officers in Turkey and we have four Turkish officers in Baghdad.

         Turkey also provides training courses for the Iraqi people. Hundreds of members of various Iraqi political parties have attended seminars in Turkey on democracy and election systems.

         Turkey also offers courses for the Iraqi journalists.

         Turkish contracting companies are keen to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq.

         Total trade volume between Turkey and Iraq in 2005 is about 2.5 billion U.S. dollars.


The December 15 elections were the last phase of the political transition process that was foreseen by the UNSC Resolution 1546.

It was relieving that the elections were held in a relatively calm atmosphere, free from widespread violence.

However, numerous fraudulent practices and irregularities were reported by various Iraqi groups including, Sunnis, the secular Shiites and the Turkmens.

The unofficial results show that the United Iraqi List shall constitute the biggest political bloc in the new parliament.

Bearing in mind the importance of the integration of the Sunnis into the political process, Turkey used every opportunity to encourage them to participate in this process.

As the time went by, the Sunni groups became more aware of the missed opportunities caused by their boycott of the previous elections. As a result of this, they participated in higher numbers in the December elections. This is a welcome step towards the integration of Sunnis into the political process.  


The constitution that is approved on October 15 does not reflect an overall consensus.

Turkey welcomed the compromise reached at the last moment before the referendum that allowed a one-time review and amendment of the constitution by the post-election parliament.

However, Turkey is worried that this reluctant Sunni compromise might turn easily into a large scale disappointment. To prevent this, the delicate Sunni engagement in the political process should be consolidated.

Turkey hopes the constitutional amendments, to be made by the new parliament in the first four months period after the formation of the government will reflect the will of all Iraqi groups in a balanced manner.

The provisions affecting the status of Kirkuk will be particularly critical for a healthy conclusion of constitutional amendments.


Kirkuk with its fragile demography is a mini-model of Iraq. As such, the fate of Kirkuk will be a test case for Iraq’s future.

Turkey is against any unilateral imposition of dominance by one group over the others in Kirkuk. Claiming past injustice to justify current misconduct does not make sense.

We are worried that Kirkuk carries the potential risk of turning into a center of ethnic strife that may lead to unpredictable consequences.

It is a pity that the new constitution failed to include even those safeguards provided by the Transitional Administrative Law in order to preserve Kirkuk’s special status.

The demographic structure of Kirkuk has been altered to such an extent that if a limited referendum takes place under these artificially created conditions, the results will be challenged as not being legitimate.

The future status of Kirkuk should be determined through a broad-based consensus among all Iraqis, rather than the hastily altered current population of the city. A referendum in 2007 as foreseen in the constitution seems not fair and viable now, given the recent performance of the local authorities.


Main Kurdish parties’ attitude needs closer scrutiny.

They have taken part in the interim national arrangements.

They have performed poorly in committing themselves to matters beyond their regional priorities and group aspirations.

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