I’m writing this article from 30,000 feet up and don’t have the ability to dig deeper, but an article has grabbed my attention with it’s vision. It’s about the influence of Turkey in Iraq and how they are the new European powerhouse. When most are focusing on Al-Qaeda, Iran, and the U.S. Military, it seems that the Ottoman Empire is in resurgence.
In terms of economics, Turkey is ideally position to serve up the vast Iraqi oil reserves to the enormous European markets. In the past Turkey was able to exploit their location on the tri-border of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East to such great extents that they formed empires lasting hundreds of years, the last of which was the Ottoman Empire which only crumbled decades ago. If things go well we may be seeing a resurgence of this power and the first sign may be that in 2010 Turkey “carries roughly 25 percent of Iraq’s oil exports…(and) have signed on to the ambitious $11 billion Nabucco gas pipeline project, which may bypass Russia and bring Iraqi gas to Europe.”
Talk about a shift in the balance of power. Out of nowhere Russia can be cut down to size with Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Turkey can once again become the dominant middle-man enjoying vast profits and greatly improving their chances to become more tightly integrated with the European Union, maybe even join.
In reading the article, pulled from the front page of the New York Times, one gets the sense that Turkey understands this all to well and deeper than any westerner can. The key to ‘fixing’ Iraq will not be through battling Iran or building up the military, but through pure economic growth. To start you need to feed the oil beast and ground zero is the vast oil reserves of Basra. The city once dominated by the Ottomans is now in ruins after bloody civil wars and military takeovers. Now it is a Turkish stronghold where all the interviews in the article ring of the Turkish merchants of yore. Brimming with excitement and ideas so irresistible you just have to love it.
For example, the first building project was a marketplace and one of the first fairs they held there was a petroleum conference.
That’s in the south of Iraq – if you move to the north where the border between Turkey and Iraq exists, you find a completely different scene. This region controlled by the Kurds is booming with commercialism. Turkish billboards, TV shows, pop stars, entrepreneurs, and vast exports of all kinds of goods. It’s a whole different kind of hearts and minds campaign resulting in $6 billion of trade in 2010, “almost double what is was in 2008.” It’s a more mature market and one more dominated by the Turks than ever.
To get a true sense of how this is changing Iraq, one would need to be there, feel the vibe of the streets, and talk to ordinary people. A close second would be to look at the political scene. The recent government coalition is thought to be of Turkish influence and one of the few powers pushing for secular coalitions. Their backing of “Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite politician who enjoys the support of the country’s Sunnis” shows just that.
In Baghdad too their presence is felt touching all corners and including the famous Moqtada al-Sadr. This famous anti-American populist prince of the poor craves attention and Turkey responded by inviting all of his lawmakers “to the Turkish capital, Ankara, for training in parliamentary protocol.” Can you imagine a revolutionary anti-American leader sending his people to democracy classes?
If all this wasn’t enough, the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq are settling down into their new economic vitality. As they enjoy the border trade that encompasses their land, the racist blood war with the Turkish government is morphing into a “Kurdish opening.” The powerful warlords of Iraqi Kurdistan no longer talk about seceding from Iraq and the prolonged warfare that would ensue. Funny how prosperity seems to calm things down.
The people of Turkey are everywhere in Iraq from the oil rich south to the strong economy in the north. They are deep into politics and are working the population too. With any luck we will have a neo-Ottoman Empire in the near future, one that could unite the Middle East through economic growth and reform through wealth.
Indeed, coalitions of this kind are the only ones that have ever succeeded in the Middle East.