It is common knowledge that while mutual friends can help facilitate a rapprochement between adversaries, it is usually common enemies that seal the deal.
In no other occasion in recent history has this theory been proven to be more correct as it has been recently with the rise of the new anti-Kurdish alliance between Iraq, Turkey and Iran.
Russia, who is a friend of all in the region, and enemy of none, has played a pivotal role in realigning the balance of power in the Middle East, ever since its involvement in the Syrian war in 2015. Russia has proved to be the most reliable as well as the most powerful geo-strategic arbiter, whilst conducting successful military operations alongside the Syrian Arab Army in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda. Russia’s gambits have not only paid off on the ground, but they have produced far-reaching and ultimately positive geo-political consequences.
Russia has been taking the lead on matters of military, security and trade with Iran and Turkey, and more recently with Iraq. Russia has been selling military equipment and defensive weapons to all of the aforementioned countries, as recently as last month. Iraq, most crucially has been pivoting closer to Russia, openly seeking closer diplomatic relations as well as buying Russian weapons. Turkey, a NATO member and Russia have enjoyed excellent diplomatic relations despite formerly being on the opposing sides in the Syrian war, and recently signed a number of energy deals as well as weapons sales, specifically the sale of S-400 Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Iran, who has been a crucial ally in every sense to Russia and Syria during the Syrian conflict, is also enjoying historically good relations with Russia.
Earlier this year, Russia invited Turkey to be a guarantor of a peace Memorandum held in Astana of which both Russia and Iran are members. The three nations reaffirmed their commitment to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Syria. This turned out to be another gambit by Russia, one which has slowly, and quietly led to Erdogan withdrawing his support for the anti-government militant factions in Syria.
Therefore, one can say with confidence that Russia is the most influential entity that binds all these powers together. It would, however be inaccurate to state that it was solely Russia that drew them together in the first place. While this new Trinity connection is not all that surprising given the recent shifts in the balance of power, it is nevertheless groundbreaking for many reasons.
It was America that laid the groundwork for the Iraq-Iran détente when it illegally invaded Iraq in 2003. America failed to take into account the majority Shia population in the country and their loyalty to Iran and subsequent Iranian influence in the country. So instead of sowing further discord between Iraq and Iran, the US intervention led to these two once adversarial nations forming a tight unit though not before launching violent sectarianism albeit in a localised context. Ironically, America also drove the two countries apart decades earlier.
The US has essentially handed Iraq over to Iran on a plate. Add to that Ankara’s diplomatic tensions with Washington over America’s support of the Kurdish militants in both Syria and Iraq and the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan which Erdogan openly blames on the Obama administration, and we can safely say America has officially left the casino more or less depleted.
With America no longer being the primary obstacle to peace and security in the region, it has become clear since the unconstitutional Kurdish referendum for independence in Northern Iraq held in September 2017, that the Kurdish separatists are now the biggest adversary to Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
The Kurdish separatists are opposed to anything that promotes territorial integrity, sovereignty and peace in the region, therefore much like ISIS, they pose an imminent existential threat to the new anti-Kurdish tripartite resistance.
Just this month, President Erdogan held a meeting with the Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei in Iran where they discussed the Kurdish problem and agreed to take ‘every possible measure’ to prevent a would be Kurdistan in Iraq. This is highly significant, considering that, with a few exceptions, Turkey and Iran have been historic rivals. Both Iran and Turkey fear that a would-be independent Kurdistan in Iraq might embolden the PKK in Turkey and PJAK in Iran to follow suit. Furthermore, Turkey will not tolerate a war on its doorstep, especially one involving Kurdish militants. The fact that Erdogan launched a war on his door step in Syria and lost, means he is unlikely to repeat a similarly haste and ill-judged decision, not least because he fears Russia's response. It is worth mentioning that Turkey and Iran also agreed to cooperate on trade.
The Kurdish threat extents beyond the KDP. Israel has been aiding military and monetarily the Kurdish separatists for decades now in order to destabilise and weaken secular Arab states. There is a danger, one which Iran, Iraq, Turkey and even Syria are aware of, that if a so-called independent Kurdistan is formed in Iraq, it could form an 'Israel crescent' of aggression against both the traditional Shia resistance and the new aforementioned Trinity. An independent Kurdish state built on sovereign Iraqi territory could theoretically and in all likelihood practically, easily link up with Kurdish militant movements in Turkey, Syria and Iran, thus completing an Israeli proxy crescent that would threaten the sovereignty and security of each state. This of course would be unacceptable to all states in the region and this is why they have acted accordingly. Indeed, Erdogan stated in his message to the Kurdish separatist factions, 'The fact that Israeli flags are waving there will not save you, you should know that.'
Now that the Iraqi Army has won the Battle for Kirkuk, a symbolic victory that defines the beginning of the end of imperial rule and subsequent devastation in the country, the possibility of an independent Kurdistan has rapidly diminished.
This applies specifically to the more militant Kurdish Democratic Party under Masoud Barzani, who are considered extreme even by other separatist Kurdish factions. It is worth remembering that Kirkuk is rich in oil and it is not included in the constitutionally autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq so the Kurds never had any business being there fighting in the first place, beyond fighting ISIS.
It is clear that Iraq has finally retaken control of its sovereignty and territory and can defend itself against Kurdish aggression. Whilst Iraq and Iran share the same regional interests and likely will for the foreseeable future, where does this leave Turkey under Erdogan, whose proxy terrorists were actively working to divide and destroy Syria until fairly recently? Will he sustain his new-found friendship with Iran, a staunch Assad ally? Well he abandon his imperial ambitions in a practical sense, once the Kurdish threat is no longer a reality? Furthermore, with Iraq announcing its plans to build nuclear facilities which could unofficially present Iran with an opportunity to discreetly build nuclear weapons in Iraqi soil, how will this affect the overall balance of power?
All this remains to be seen. However, much like in real life, unification over a common adversary is rarely sustainable. Alliances amongst friends however, are. Perhaps if all three parties limited their ambitions to cooperation on trade, we may see some positive change.