• Iraq
  • September 16, 2007
  • 4 minutes read

Undermining Democracy in the Middle East

Undermining Democracy in the Middle East

Bush”s denials to the contrary, the Administration is holding its breath hoping Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will resign. It only now has figured out that Maliki is too close to Iran. And if Maliki turns out to be obstinate, the Arabic word for coup d”etat is “inqilab.”

Support for a putsch has been building in Washington to replace Maliki with Iyad Allawi, the former Prime Minister. Allawi hired the Republican lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith and Rogers to get American backing (though he subsequently tried to create some illusion of distance by having his political party technically hire the firm). The subtext of Allawi”s message is, who cares about democracy and the will of the Iraqi people? I”m Washington”s man, not Tehran”s. Never mind that Allawi has little support among Iraqis.

Iraq is not the only country in the region where there”s rumors of a coup in the works. Ever since Prime Minister Erdogan”s Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept Turkish parliamentary elections on July 22, and then elected AKP member Abdallah Gul President, the Turkish generals have been casting around for an excuse to take power. They mutter about Ergdogan being a fundamentalist and wobbly on security.

Armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit notably did not attend Gul”s swearing-in ceremony on August 28. A day later Buyukanit pointedly failed to acknowledge Gul at a military graduation ceremony. Buyukanit warned the press not to read too much into these slights. But the Turks know better. There have been four military coups since 1960.

With the AKP”s decisive election win, the Turkish military is reluctant to simply roll the tanks out into the streets. It needs a rock-solid pretext. Iraq, and its failed democracy, very well could be it.

Weapons issued to Iraqi security forces are starting to show up in Turkey, finding their way into the hands of Turkish Kurdish separatists and criminals. Most recently, a van with 660 pounds was found in Ankara on September 11, possibly meant to be detonated on September 12, the twenty-seventh anniversary of a Turkish military coup. The Turkish generals are counting on things getting worse in Iraq, with more chaos spilling across the border into Turkey. Erdogan told them he can work with the Iraqi Regional Kurdish Government to staunch the smuggling, as well as close down Kurdish separatist bases in Iraq used to launch attacks into Turkey.

The generals have heard it all before; they know Erdogan cannot deliver. No one can do anything about Iraq. The generals also know that whether Maliki stays or goes, the Iraqi government cannot exert control over its armed forces and police, enough at least to secure Turkey”s border. But this is not the point — a failing Iraq is mounting justification to unseat Erdogan and the AKP.

The only thing that seems certain these days in Iraq is the iron law of unintended consequences. Maybe the Kurds will control the border, and the Turkish army backs off. But the irony is that the “liberation” of Iraq is undermining democracy in the region, not planting it.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com”s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down