Turkey's Charm Offensive

Erdogan Makes Nice

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boards a plane with his wife, Emine, in Istanbul, January 2017. Reuters

On January 7, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Baghdad, marking a milestone in its warming relations with Iraq. Four months ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had warned that Turkey’s deployment of troops to the Iraqi town of Bashiqa threatened to trigger a “regional war.” Turkey, which claimed for its troops the consent of the Kurdistan Regional Government, shot back that Iraq’s sudden concern with Bashiqa had “malicious” intent. An escalating war of words led to the mutual summoning of ambassadors and an Iraqi call, in October, for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But during the January visit, the prime ministers of Iraq and Turkey stood together and declared that they would “solve the issue” of Bashiqa, in addition to strengthening bilateral trade, security, and economic cooperation.

Ankara’s about-face follows a dramatic year for the country, in which an attempted military coup, escalating attacks by the Islamic State (or ISIS) on Turkish soil, and a deepening war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) brought about a fundamental reexamination of the country’s foreign policy priorities. (Turkey maintains good relations with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, but considers the PKK a terrorist group.) As a result of the multiple domestic crises that buffeted the Turkish state in 2016, Ankara is in the process of overhauling its foreign policy, increasingly pursuing stable neighborly relations and reigning in its impulse to project power regionally.


Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, initially pursued a policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” which sought to establish the country as the economic heart of an increasingly interconnected Middle East. But the developments of the Arab Spring led Turkey toward a more assertive foreign policy. The AKP decried the removal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup, threatened to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his campaign of mass slaughter against Syrian rebels, and railed against former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for mistreating

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