Saturday, November 19, 2011

Iraq and its neighbors

Al Rafidayn reports that, as of tomorrow, Turkish planes will no longer be able to land at Iraqi airports in response to the refusal to allow Iraqi planes to land at Turkish airports -- these are commercial flights. Turkey has refused to allow Iraqi planes to land because Iraqi allegedly owes money. KUNA explains, "The Iraqi move followed Turkish authorities' ban of Iraqi airplanes from landing in Istanbul airport because of what Ankara claimed was Iraq's Oil Marketing Company's (Somo) unpaid debt of USD five million."

The Turkish government's been praised by a number of commentators of late. Many may wonder why that is. Part of the reason was explained today on BBC's Newhour in a segment broadcast from Turkey. Excerpt:

Robin Lustig: Turkey's been in the business of buying and selling for centuries. I'm in the heart of old Istanbul at the moment, in the spice market, surrounded by the colors, the smells of every spice you could imagine. There's a wonderful smell of coffee wafting on the evening air. These days, though, Turkey is selling something a little bit different. It's selling the idea of Turkish democracy, democracy in a Muslim country.

[chanting is heard]

Robin Lustig: These people are making full use of their democratic freedoms. They're Kurds, they're protesting, noisily, outside the court house, chanting for the release of a young Kurdish student who they say is being held in jail on trumped up charges. Kurds here in Turkey say the country's democratic system is deeply flawed, it fails to protect minority rights.

Robin Lustig: I've come now just a few steps away from the court house and I'm down by the Bosphorus, the strip of water that divides Europe from Asia. And with me here is one of Turkey's best known television stars Banu Guven. She's been telling me that she now has her own reasons for doubting Turkey's democratic credentials.

Banu Guven: I used to work for NTV and I had to quit because a week before the elections here, I was going to host one of the most prominent Kurdish politicians but just three or four days before, the director told me that we couldn't do it. A week before the elections, the government and the prime minister didn't want media to host Kurdish candidates.

Robin Lustig: In many parts of the world now, particularly in the Arab world, people are looking at Turkey as an example of a sort-of model of an Islamic democracy.

Banu Guven: We'd like to be a model for democracy, but we are not any kind of a model to anyone.

For text, you can refer to Robin Lustig's report here and here (the latter includes audio link and notes it's only good for the next seven days). It's really important for a number of players -- including the US government -- that Turkey be seen as a model.

AFP reports on the decision of the Iraqi government not to side with Arab neighbors in condemning Syria. Syria's been having internal problems -- and if that strikes you as "mild," the rest of the US commentary elsewhere should more than make up for my being mild. AFP presents a theory as to why. It's been one theory after another these days. Could it be that with all the other problems it has currently, Iraq just doesn't see the benefits to calling out a neighbor? Or maybe they don't want to appear to be doing the US government's bidding? It's really amazing because Iraqi President Jalal Talabani wants to house members of Muammar Gaddafi within Iraq. I'm not condemning it, I'm not endorsing it. It's not my business. But of the two decisions, one is ignored and one is seized. The one everyone leaps on is the one that might help propel war (with Syria), the one ignored goes to the fact that, yes, these wars are effecting people. No matter how you demonize the leader -- and the US government has been very good about demonizing other leaders in the last nine years -- he or she is still a person and still has family members.

Robert Fisk (Independent of London via ZNet) reviews the region:

The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was here "to talk about Syria". Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pontificated that "perhaps because Syria has not enough petroleum, there has been less interest in the West in the killing of Syrian civilians" – probably true – while every Turkish newspaper has been speculating about the Turks' future plans for action in Syria. A Turkish military cordon sanitaire inside the border with Syria seems to be the favourite.

Listening in the old capital of the Ottoman Empire to the mice-turned-to-lions of the Gulf, you could almost believe these were the Last Days of Assad. Personally, I doubt it. When The Wall Street Journal announces his forthcoming demise I reckon he's safe for a good while yet. The Syrian National Council in Istanbul is itself a pretty argumentative mouse, recognised only by the pipsqueak power of the new Libya.

Yet the very final ultimatum from the Arab League – it expires tomorrow – is an extremely serious matter for the Baathist powers in Damascus. Does Syria allow a 500-strong team of observers from the League to go prowling around Homs and Hama and Deraa? Isn't that in itself a real boxer's punch to Syria's sovereignty? The Moroccan ambassador has left Damascus after the attack on his embassy. The Qataris and Saudis left a long time ago. The German ambassador is flaunting what is supposed to be a new draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria. Presumably he has discovered some crumbs to throw to the Russians and Chinese to bring them on board.

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