Turkey turns inwards as war spreads from Syria to Iraq

As al Qaeda-inspired Sunni militants spread right along Turkey`s southeastern border last month from Syria through Iraq, seizing Turkish hostages as they went, the normally loquacious Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had little to say.

Ankara: As al Qaeda-inspired Sunni militants spread right along Turkey`s southeastern border last month from Syria through Iraq, seizing Turkish hostages as they went, the normally loquacious Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had little to say.

Turkey`s outspoken opposition to the crackdown in Syria gained it global headlines as it opened its border and poured aid across to help refugees and rebels alike. But three years later the situation has morphed into a security and humanitarian nightmare on Ankara`s doorstep, that has now spread to Iraq.
The Sunni militant advance and hostage crisis there is overshadowing Erdogan`s campaign to become Turkey`s first elected president in a vote due next month.

His response has been muted, shorn of the bombastic rhetoric or global calls to action employed in previous regional crises, a sign of a newly tentative regional policy which could have wide repercussions.

Stopping short of calling the militants terrorists, he said only that air strikes against them should be avoided.
"Turkey now has security concerns it didn`t have two years ago, therefore its own security is the number one foreign policy aim, rather than transforming the region," said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund.

Recent pronouncements on Syria, where Erdogan previously led calls for military intervention when it cracked down on Sunni protesters in 2011, have been similarly muted, as has his once-scathing criticism of the military in Egypt which ousted an Islamist elected president last year.

While a foreign policy pullback may ease some of the tensions that have built up, it could also mean a dangerous limbo at a time when Turkey`s security is increasingly threatened by the gaping power vacuums opening up on its south-eastern borders.

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