Anthony Shadid reports:
A Turkey as resurgent as at any time since its Ottoman glory is projecting influence through a turbulent Iraq, from the boomtowns of the north to the oil fields near southernmost Basra, in a show of power that illustrates its growing heft across an Arab world long suspicious of it.
Its ascent here, in an arena contested by the United States and Iran, may prove its greatest success so far, as it emerges from the shadow of its alliance with the West to chart an often assertive and independent foreign policy.
Turkey’s influence is greater in northern Iraq and broader, though not deeper, than Iran’s in the rest of the country. While the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, losing more than 4,400 troops there, Turkey now exerts what may prove a more lasting legacy — so-called soft power, the assertion of influence through culture, education and business.
“This is the trick — we are very much welcome here,” said Ali Riza Ozcoskun, who heads Turkey’s consulate in Basra, one of four diplomatic posts it has in Iraq.
Turkey’s newfound influence here has played out along an axis that runs roughly from Zakho in the north to Basra, by way of the capital, Baghdad. For a country that once deemed the Kurdish region in northern Iraq an existential threat, Turkey has embarked on the beginning of what might be called a beautiful friendship.
In the Iraqi capital, where politics are not for the faint-hearted, it promoted a secular coalition that it helped build, drawing the ire of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, along the way. For Iraq’s abundant oil and gas, it has positioned itself as the country’s gateway to Europe, while helping to satisfy its own growing energy needs.
Just as the Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reoriented politics in Turkey, it is doing so in Iraq, with repercussions for the rest of the region.