Erdogan vows support for integrity of Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (AFP/Turkish prime ministre press office)
Updated 25 October 2017
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Erdogan vows support for integrity of Iraq

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged his support on Wednesday for the integrity of the Iraqi state and warned against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) exploiting a power vacuum in northern Iraq.
“In all these areas, we are ready to continue common efforts and be in solidarity with Baghdad,” he said, and Ankara would also support Baghdad in its fight against Daesh. 
Erdogan was speaking at a press conference with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who visited Ankara after talks in Riyadh with King Salman of Saudi Arabia and in Baghdad with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. 
The flurry of diplomacy follows a controversial referendum last month in which Kurds in northern Iraq voted for independence, and military action by Baghdad to retake the city of Kirkuk, which has been controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) since 2014. 
The KRG on Wednesday proposed an immediate halt to military operations, freezing of the referendum results and new talks with Baghdad. 
Turkey opposed the referendum and criticized it again on Wednesday. “Why did you insist on this mistake if this would be the point you would arrive at? Why didn’t you listen to Turkey’s advice?” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. 
Iraq has about $9 billion a year in trade with Turkey, its largest trading partner. Much of it is conducted through the Habur border crossing, which is controlled by the KRG on the Iraqi side. Ankara and Baghdad are considering an alternative border crossing.  
Erdogan also said his country is prepared to help Iraq’s central government export oil through a pipeline that would largely bypass Iraq’s Kurdish region, reported AP.
“While the Turkish government realizes that an independent Kurdish state next to its borders is a serious security threat to its domestic stability, Turkey also understands the importance of maintaining influence inside Iraq by supporting the KRG,” Muhanad Seloom, director of Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies in London, told Arab News. 
“Turkish-KRG relations also serve as counterbalance to the growing Iranian influence inside Iraq.” 
The status of Turkey’s Bashiqa military camp in Iraq, where Turkish troops provide training to local forces, is also a matter of concern. Ankara and Baghdad were at odds last year over the camp, which Baghdad views as a violation of its sovereignty. 
“On the one hand, the Turkish government prefers to keep its small military force in Bashiqa camp to monitor the growing presence of the PKK and to protect its strategic interests in Iraq, including Kirkuk. On the other hand, Iraq will push to terminate the presence of Turkish forces in Iraq because it diminishes Iraq’s sovereignty,” Seloom said. 
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert at the Bilgesam think tank in Istanbul, said Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara would not accept merely freezing the independence referendum results, but required their complete cancellation. 
“The opening of a new border crossing between Turkey and Iraq will take time because it requires additional security measures and feasibility studies in this risky region,” Semin told Arab News. 
At this stage, experts do not expect any demand from Baghdad for the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Bashiqa camp. 
“The aim of Al-Abadi’s visit was to coordinate with the Turkish government to end Iraqi Kurds’ separatist aspirations. This coordination could be manifested in an agreement between Baghdad and Ankara to set up a border crossing which is not part of the KRG’s administrative territory, as well as decreasing economic and security cooperation between Turkey and the KRG,” Seloom said.
Baghdad wants Turkey to maintain its presence in Bashiqa as a contribution to regional security, although its purpose may be altered, Semin said.  “I predict that from now on only Iraqi security forces — military and police forces — will be trained in the Bashiqa camp,” he said.


Ports deal is chance for Yemen peace talks, says UN envoy

Updated 21 February 2019
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Ports deal is chance for Yemen peace talks, says UN envoy

  • Forces will initially be withdrawn from the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa
  • The second phase a withdrawal of 18 to 30 kilometers, depending on the location and fighters

NEW YORK: The expected pullout of forces from three key ports in Yemen provides an opportunity to move to the major goal of ending the four-year conflict that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the UN envoy for the war-battered country said on Tuesday.

Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that Yemen’s government and Houthi militias demonstrated that they are able to deliver on commitments they made in December in Stockholm by agreeing on the first phase of redeployment from the ports.

He said forces will initially be withdrawn from the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, beginning “possibly” on Tuesday or Wednesday. This will be followed by a pullout from the major port of Hodeidah and critical parts of the city that will allow access to the Red Sea Mills, a major UN storage facility holding enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, he said.

Griffiths called on the parties to fully implement the first phase and to agree on details of the second phase of the redeployment of forces, “which we hope will lead to the demilitarization” of Hodeidah, whose port handles about 70 percent of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

A UN official said the first phase involves pulling back several kilometers, and the second phase a withdrawal of 18 to 30 kilometers, depending on the location and fighters. In some places in Hodeidah city, the opposing forces are facing each other about 100 meters apart, the official said.

The UN is appealing for more than $4 billion to assist 15 million Yemenis this year and UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock implored donors to pledge generously at a conference next week in Geneva.