The Growing Iran-Turkey Rivalry

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In the parliamentary elections of 2010, Turkey supported the seemingly secular Sunni dominated Iraqiya party led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, while the Islamic Republic of Iran backed the State of Law Coalition, which included Maliki’s Islamic Da’wa Party, and other Shiite Islamist groups that came under the umbrella of the National Iraqi Alliance Bloc.  Maliki, however, managed to stay Prime Minister despite coming up short by two seats (less than the Iraqiya Bloc) and by including the radical pro-Iranian Shiite Sadrists and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.

The Sunni-Shiite fault lines are clearly visible in Iraq.  Baghdad is allied with Iran in support of the Alawite regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, and has blocked the Arab League attempt to impose harsh sanctions against the Assad regime.  Maliki has in fact labeled Turkey “a hostile state.” Erdogan, for his part, has accused Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki of acting “self-centered” and inciting tensions between Iraq’s Shiite majority and the Sunnis and Kurds.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu inaugurated his policy of “Zero Problems” with Turkey’s neighbors.  It has led to a short lived rapprochement with Iran and Syria that included a pact to prevent Kurdish demands for cultural and political self-determination.

In Lebanon, another area of contest between Shia and Sunni Islam for dominance, FM Davutoglu had this to say, “Lebanon is like a small Middle East, with many communities like Christian, Sunni, Shia, and Druze. Therefore, the survival of Lebanon as a stable, prosperous state is a reflection, indicator of regional peace.”  Iran however, has provided its Shiite co-religionists and especially the Hezbollah with major financial and military resources, helping Hezbollah to become the dominant party in Lebanon at the expense of the other communities including the Sunnis, Druse, and Christians.

Iran and Turkey compete for influence in Central Asia and the Caucuses, particularly in the bordering states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.  The presence of 20 million ethnic Azeris in Iran, considered Southern Azerbaijan by the Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital) government has caused a great deal of friction between Tehran and Baku.  Iran has tried to stem secessionist tendencies encouraged by the pro-western Baku government.  Since the 1990’s, Iran has sided with “infidel” Christian Armenia in its conflict with majority Shiite Muslim Azerbaijan.  Turkey on the other hand, has a close cultural and linguistic association with Azerbaijan, and a painful past with Armenia. Turkey has backed Azerbaijan politically, and has strong commercial ties with it.

Turkey’s subtle appeals to pan-Turkism in Central Asia, supposedly in Iran’s backyard has angered the Iranians who like Turks, seek to be the center and leader of the Muslim world.  Both Turkey and Iran are pushing their model of an Islamic republic, and central Asia has become a focal point in this contest.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s attempt to bring Iran and Turkey together on Syria and other issues clashes with the ambitions of the two Middle Eastern behemoths.  Iran and Turkey are vying for leadership in the greater Middle East just like in past times, and it is unlikely that their interests will converge. One mustn’t forget history – it tends to repeat itself.

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  • zoran

    Safavid were turks, Turks rulled Iran over a millenia, before the Turks, arabs rulled iran form almost a millenia, there are over 25 million Azeri Turks in Today’s Iran, Persians not only lack leadershib but also are no match to Turk fighers, so during the Safavids, it was turks who rulled Iran and under their leadershib and art of fighting Iran had become an empire.

    • sammy

      Hmmm…so what your saying is that the Safavids Turks fight aganist The Ottoman Turks? Doesn't really make sense.The Safavids were Iranian, fighting the Turks. You can perhaps open a textbook in the future.

  • Drakken

    If the western powers were smart, they would encourage a conflict between Iran and Turkey and exploit it. To simple.

    • Michael

      NATO makes it more complicated.

      • Drakken

        The Europeans will never let Turkey into the EU, imagine 70 million turks moving into Europe proper?

  • Matt

    As distasteful as it is Iran is a regional power, they can make al-Maliki stand down by a vote of no confidence, they also have influence in Syria. Iran is there it is a reality so as distasteful as it is to have talks with them. Iran in the end will be part of the solution to Syria. Russia cannot do what the US did in Egypt an make a call and have Assad removed. Nor can Iran. The structure of the regime as designed by his father is created to prevent that the inner circle a coup against the President. The USSR could have but of course would not. So what is being talked about is the first Annan plan a ceasefire. That Iran an Russia can negotiate if the other side also agrees to stop attacks. But the FSA is fractured into many groups as in Libya even if the order to halt at Tripoli was given they would not have stopped as no one has real control over these groups, not like a true disciplined army. That can be said also in relation to the militia's that are on Assad side but he has no real control over, civil war. The real point is no one wants it to stop but they are looking to pass blame in this case on to the Russians, hence Iran and the Saudis are not invited. These ceasefire talks will fail without Iran or Saudi Arabia and everyone knows it an Russia gets the blame, but that is water off a ducks back. Colonial imperial arrogance to try to negotiate a Shiite/Sunni conflict without the Shiite an Sunni's being invited to the talks. It is a charade. I will say this about Assad he is still playing nice, pushing him into a corner further isolating him he may go postal. So that is why it has to be a bi-lateral ceasefire, but violence will continue for the reasons outline albeit at a lower intensity. So even if everyone agrees Assad should go, it still comes back to use of force by a foreign power which both Russia an PRC oppose.

  • ramsey

    First of all, let's get the records straight. Turks as are known now used to live in the Gobi desert of mongolia, the turkish race is a mixture of the mongols and tatars, and that's all

  • sammy

    Turkey is too pre-occupied to see what's going on. The PKK is directly funded by the CIA. soon or later Turkey will be split up. The Western power can't see Turkey has having too much power and joing the EU. Turkey better wake up

  • http://rentinmakati.com/ Andrea J. Liller

    Iran is making every of their neighbors as enemies. Did not Turkey send relief and humanitarian supplies to Iran during the UN sanctions? I pity the starving people.

  • Meral Demirel

    How can iran be leader of muslim world while it is despised everywhere, they consider non-shias non-muslim and even against shia Azerbaijan they support christian armenia and they do terrorism everywhere, fuck iran

  • Meral Demirel

    How can iran be leader of muslim world while it is despised everywhere, they consider non-shias non-muslim and even against shia Azerbaijan they support christian armenia and they do terrorism everywhere, fuck iran