Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and ex-President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani greet people during a ceremony in Diyarbakir. (Reuters/file)
Updated 04 January 2018

Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

ANKARA: The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is reportedly attempting to recover its relations with Turkey by contributing to Ankara’s anti-terrorism efforts.
According to Turkish press reports, Irbil is planning to establish security along its border with Turkey, often used by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists to infiltrate Turkey from northern Iraq and conduct terror attacks. As a practical step, the KRG has some plans to declare security zones in regions near Turkish borders.
Consequently, civilians will not be permitted to cross into the security zones, and those trying to enter these zones will be considered terrorists and be prevented from crossing.
Northern Iraq has been a long-time hub for terrorist activities against the Turkish state. In early November 2017, Turkish security forces clashed with PKK terrorists who were trying to cross the border from northern Iraq, resulting in the death of eight Turkish soldiers.
The bilateral ties between the KRG and Turkey shattered following the independence referendum the KRG held on Sept. 25, 2017, despite all regional and international warnings against it.
After the referendum, international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan were canceled at the request of Baghdad, but Turkey did not close its land border with the region.
And now, with the deteriorating economic conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan, its lose of control of the oilfields in Kirkuk and the high rate of unemployment leading to protests in Sulaymaniyah last month, the Irbil government has become obliged to reconcile with regional countries.
Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, thinks that apart from this latest step, it is plausible to expect a gradual mending of ties between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The fact that the KRG leadership has visited Europe through Turkey points to such a prospect,” Dalay told Arab News.
In the first two weeks of December, KRG officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Qubad Talabani, paid visits to France and then to Germany by crossing by land into Turkey, and then taking a flight from there to discuss regional issues, including the fight against Daesh and the deadlock on Irbil-Baghdad relations.
Nevertheless, Dalay noted that this rapprochement process between Irbil and Ankara would be slow and gradual, and a swift recovery of relations is unlikely.
“Beside foreign policy projections, Turkey’s domestic politics will define the momentum of such a rapprochement. In this respect, if KRG’s recent decision is materialized, this will contribute to giving a positive momentum to the relationship,” he said.
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, said this latest move by Irbil to forge a relationship with Turkey is the outcome of the isolation of the KRG following the independence referendum, both regionally and internationally.
According to Semin, the KRG cannot afford further deterioration with Turkey under its current international isolation, and the decrease in Turkish investments in the region has further contributed to its economic difficulties.
But the plan is not feasible without adequate human resources, he said.
“Currently Irbil, due to the dire economic state of the region, cannot pay the salaries of its Kurdish Peshmerga forces and civil servants. So such a plan will mostly fail unless it is supported by Turkey’s contributions with its own soldiers or launching a military training camp in this region, similar to Bashiqa camp in Mosul,” Semin told Arab News.
Although it was later considered by Iraq’s central government a move against “national sovereignty,” Turkish troops have been stationed in Bashiqa in northern Iraq following an invitation by Baghdad in 2014 with the mission of training Peshmerga forces in the fight against Daesh.
Semin also noted that the KRG began seeing the PKK as an imminent security threat to itself after the terror group recently declared autonomy in five regions in northern Iraq.
Turkey has recently launched sweeping aerial operations against PKK hideouts following the terror group’s recent attacks from northern Iraq to Turkish territories with rocket launchers.
“The KRG leadership is also concerned that central government’s security forces might conduct an operation in the region if the PKK gains regional clout,” Semin noted.

Yemen govt, Houthis swap names of 15,000 prisoners at UN talks

Updated 8 min 47 sec ago

Yemen govt, Houthis swap names of 15,000 prisoners at UN talks

  • A source in the government delegation said their side had released the names of 8,200 detainees
  • The Houthi militia announced that the names of a total of 15,000 detainees and prisoners had been exchanged

RIMBO, Sweden: Yemen’s government and rival militia announced Tuesday plans for a mass prisoner swap, exchanging some 15,000 names, as UN-brokered talks on ending the country’s war entered their seventh day.
Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of mass starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi militia, linked to Iran, began talks Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo in Sweden. The talks are expected to last a week.
The Houthi militia announced that the names of a total of 15,000 detainees and prisoners had been exchanged. A source in the government delegation said their side had released the names of 8,200 detainees but declined to comment on the combined total.
The militia and government have agreed to a 45-day deadline for the exchange, sources in both delegations said.
Prisoners will be flown out through two airports: government-held Seyoun, in central Yemen, and the rebel-held capital Sanaa, home to an international airport that has been largely shut down for three years.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed it will oversee the exchange.
The Sweden talks are the first meeting between the two parties in the Yemen conflict, which pits the Iran-backed Houthis against the Hadi government, allied with a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the prisoner swap was one of the main points -- and the least contentious -- at this week’s talks.
Griffiths told reporters on Monday the prisoner swap would be “very, very considerable in terms of the numbers that we hope to get released within a few weeks”.
The prisoner exchange was the only issue the rival delegations were confirmed to have met on face-to-face.
Among the other issues under discussion are potential humanitarian corridors, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeidah, the Houthi-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.

The UN said on Monday it was seeking $4 billion to provide humanitarian aid to some 20 million Yemenis next year — or about 70 percent of the war-stricken country’s population.

Each year, the world body needs an additional billion dollars, UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said.

A donors’ conference backed by Sweden, Switzerland and the UN is set to take place on Feb. 26 in Geneva.

“We didn’t have a cessation of hostilities,” although the violence appears to have decreased, added Lowcock, who recently traveled to the country, expressing hope for a positive outcome to peace negotiations taking place in Sweden between the parties under UN auspices.

He denounced obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid, noting that Yemen also needs help to bring its economy back from the brink.

“Hodeidah port is crucial” for humanitarian aid, Lowcock said, referring to the flashpoint city at the heart of negotiations in Sweden. The Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies, has been battling the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for control of Yemen for nearly four years, spawning what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.