Tensions flared in the months after the general elections in Iraq in May 2018 and the subsequent forming of the Iraqi government. The KDP considered itself eligible to present an Iraqi presidential candidate because the Kurdish region has been without a president since President Masoud Barzani’s term ended in November 2017. The parties could not agree on a candidate. The PUK proposed Barham Salih, a former PUK member who had rejoined the party in order to run in the elections. He beat the KDP’s candidate in a landslide.
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Thus, almost 35 years after the start of the conflict, south-east Turkey and northern Iraq, remain war zones. And the blood of soldiers, guerrillas and civilians will continue to flow. To end the bloodshed, a political deal will have to be made. Currently, no one in Turkey is even willing to consider a political deal with the PKK: they are terrorists and have to be destroyed.
In late July, Turkey’s central bank refused to raise interest rates, despite pressure from the international community to do so to alleviate rising inflation. Prior to the election, Erdoğan repeatedly promised to take over greater control of central bank policy, so the failure to raise rates sparked fears that Erdoğan was following through on this promise. He has called interest rates the “mother and father of all evil”. The Turkish lira promptly lost 3% off the dollar, a reaction from the markets similar to the one they had when his re-election was announced. The Turkish economy is dependent on foreign investors and moves such as this one, which may hold a certain domestic nationalist appeal, are driving away foreign money and sparking fears for the future health of the Turkish economy.
Erdogan’s win means more than just another five years of his authoritarian rule. The elections gifted him with a raft of new powers – voted for in last year’s referendum – including the right to directly appoint public officials, impose a state of emergency and intervene unilaterally in the judicial system.
Fuelling Saudi Arabia’s anger, Turkey sent additional troops to Qatar in December 2017, and the two countries signed an agreement in March 2018 to establish a naval base and training centre and to send 60,000 more soldiers. In response, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) described Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil” along with Iran and hardline Islamist groups.
Frustrated by the slow pace of government reconstruction, some citizens have begun taking matters into their own hands, with volunteers cleaning the streets and residents rebuilding their own houses and businesses. However, some have accused Baghdad of having sectarian motives for moving slowly on the reconstruction of former IS-held areas, which are primarily Sunni.
With the economy showing worrying signs, some observers have viewed the early elections as a sign of weakness, and the government certainly does not appear fully prepared for such an election. However, by calling an early election, Erdogan has maximized his chances of success in a country that still fiercely identifies as democratic, even if the reality is far more complicated.
Turkey today finds itself at a crossroads. Will the country manage to heal the wounds of domestic strife and extricate itself from the destabilizing vortex of Syria’s civil war? The answer will ultimately not only determine the security, the stability, and ultimately the development of the country itself. Due to Turkey’s geostrategic importance, it will also influence the stability and security of the entire region, of Europe and the West at large.
While Damascus residents hope for quieter and more peaceful times after the fall of Eastern Ghouta, they remain fearful about the future of their country. With the United States (US) supporting the Kurds in the north-east, Turkey supporting the opposition in Idlib in the north, and Russia and Iran supporting the regime, Syria continues to be a geopolitical powder keg.