Baghdad regains Habur border gate from the KRG, with Turkey’s help

Turkish Army vehicles are driven away in a convoy at the Habur/Ibrahim Khalil border crossing with Iraq, near Silopi, southeastern Turkey on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)
Updated 31 October 2017

Baghdad regains Habur border gate from the KRG, with Turkey’s help

ANKARA: On early Tuesday (Oct. 31), Iraq and Turkish army forces gained control of the Habur border gate, also known as the Ibrahim Al-Khalil border gate on the Iraqi side, from the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and raised the Iraqi national flag.
State-run Anadolu Agency reported that Iraqi military forces were deployed at the Ibrahim Al-Khalil crossing in Iraqi territories, alongside Turkish forces, after making a joint drill in Turkey’s southeastern town of Silopi.
Iraqi Chief of General Staff Osman Ganimi thanked Turkish military officers and said: “We will be stronger as long as we stand together,” according to Anadolu Agency.
Turkey has a trade volume of $8 billion with Iraq that passes through the Habur border gate, currently the main passage between the two countries.
Speaking to the ruling AK Party politicians at the parliament, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim confirmed that Habur border gate had been handed over to the Iraqi central government by the KRG without any problem.
Yildirim also said that from now on the border crossing will be under the control of officials from Turkey and the Iraqi central government, while the transportation will be still carried out on the current route, but he added that Ankara would prevent KRG officials from taking racketeering from the trucks and imposing illegitimate taxes across the border.
After completing the necessary security reinforcements and feasibility studies, Turkey and Iraq are expected to open a second border gate in the near future, as an alternative border crossing that will pass through the Iraqi town of Tal Afar.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on the Middle East, said the handover on Tuesday was initially aimed at gaining control of the border region.
“But, at the later phase, the Turkish army may be deployed across the border or on the Iraqi part of the border,” he told Arab News.
Sohtaoglu also expects a new joint operation between Tehran, Baghdad and Ankara in the region.
“A joint operation against those under the umbrella of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and its military wing the People’s Defense Forces is looming on the horizon, particularly in Sinjar in northern Iraq. The unfolding military mobility in the region can be read as the gradual implementation of a bigger plan toward the region,” he added.
“The Iraqi national army is also deployed in a way to ensure the security of the second border gate between Turkey and Iraq. But what is interesting is that Iranian militia under the Iraqi national army are kept out of Turkish borders,” Sohtaoglu underlined.


Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Updated 39 min 41 sec ago

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.