The Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a teleconference on “Impact of Soleimani’s Death on the Middle East” with Senior Fellow and Director of The Iraq Initiative at the Atlantic Council, Dr. Abbas Kadhim, Professor of International Relations at Middle East Technical University, Dr. Hüseyin Bağcı, and Former Political Advisor at U.S. Central Command, Ramin Asgard.
Abbas Kadhim began the discussion by providing a background of the recent US-Iran tensions. He observed that the latest events in US-Iran relations indicate a “positive exit” from further escalation. He went on to acknowledge that there is an overall sense of relief by other countries in the region where US troops are hosted that they will not be targets in continued retaliation. Iraq, being close allies with both the US and Iran, was caught in the middle of the conflict and condemned both countries’ attacks. Kadhim emphasizes that although tensions have settled for now, anything is possible, and this is not the end of the conflict.
Next, Ramin Asgard discussed the importance of viewing the US-Iran conflict within the context of the domestic situation in the US, including the current impeachment process of President Trump and the 2020 election campaign. He also acknowledged the historical and political weight of this recent high escalation and crossing of long-established red lines by both countries. Asgard cautions the possibility of any of the several Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq making a move and retriggering conflict and stresses that actors who can influence decision-making should offer alternatives for a path forward not signaled through military action or media activity. He offers that Iraq could conceivably step into a mediator role and allow communication to take place for de-escalation.
Finally, Hüseyin Bağcı provided an analysis of Turkey’s place between Iran, Russia, and the US. Iran is an enemy of the US and a competitor with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. However, Turkey is working with Russia and Iran on the Astana Process, or Syrian Peace Process, due to their important strategic geopolitical positioning. Bağcı offers that Americans and Turks can together contribute to the “New Middle East.” He pointed out that countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and Syria are not on good terms with Turkey and there are no direct channels for communication. Turkey must repair its relations with Arab nations. He also stressed that America is no longer alone in the Middle East and must accept the reality that Russia is another player present in the region for the foreseeable future. Finally, Bağcı emphasized that Turkey is not a key player but an important player for now and for the future. For Turkey, there is an opportunity to mediate between the US and Iran.