Economic interests driving Turkiye’s security policy

Economic interests driving Turkiye’s security policy

Iraq's foreign minister (R) meet with a visiting Turkish delegation headed by FM Hakan Fidan in Baghdad. (AFP)
Iraq's foreign minister (R) meet with a visiting Turkish delegation headed by FM Hakan Fidan in Baghdad. (AFP)
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In the current geopolitical context, the boundaries between economy and security are becoming increasingly blurred. Economic interests are never separated from security considerations and, therefore, the recipe for a secure country is an integrated economy through cooperation, with any terrorist threats eliminated from the domestic and external environments.

This approach is driven, to a large extent, by the threats posed by terrorist elements, which can jeopardize both economic development and security. It becomes especially relevant when it comes to Turkiye’s relations with countries where its security and economic concerns are intertwined, such as Iraq.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan last week explained the economic-security approach that Ankara has adopted in its relations with Iraq. Fidan said: “When you have a relationship based on economic development, you need to eliminate security issues.” He added that economic development is only possible in a safe and secure atmosphere.

Fidan emphasized that fostering economic growth necessitates resolving security issues, indicating Turkiye’s commitment to not only security-based relations but also broader cooperation, particularly in the defense and energy sectors. This objective requires a reciprocal approach and Turkiye and Iraq have now, after months of discussions, reached a common understanding to fight terrorism together in order to achieve mutual economic interests. This economic-security engagement is expected to reinforce a mutually beneficial relationship.

Turkiye and Iraq’s economic-security engagement is expected to reinforce a mutually beneficial relationship

Sinem Cengiz

Historically, Turkiye’s counterterrorism efforts in Iraq have strained its relations with Baghdad. But Fidan’s insistence this week that “we do not want to become enemies with our allies as we eliminate the PKK” was important. This indicates that there has been a shift toward strategic planning and collaboration to combat common threats, such as the PKK, which was last week banned by Baghdad.

Fidan, Defense Minister Yasar Guler and intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin last week held talks with their Iraqi counterparts during a security summit. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral relations between Ankara and Baghdad.

These talks also aimed to prepare the ground for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anticipated post-Ramadan visit to Baghdad. Erdogan’s last trip to Baghdad was in 2012 during his tenure as prime minister. Next month’s expected visit is considered to be crucial in settling any tensions between Baghdad and Ankara on political, security and economic issues. A delegation of high-ranking Turkish officials, business figures and representatives from various companies are to accompany him.

When states aim to push their relations to another level, heads of state tend to pay visits, often with large business delegations accompanying them. Although much of the focus is on what the leaders say during these visits, the most important task falls to the businesspeople behind the scenes, who drive the newly restored relations.

Ankara wants to institutionalize its relations with Iraq and plans to ink various agreements on myriad issues

Sinem Cengiz

Iraq and Turkiye have myriad issues to address, including stalled oil exports, trade and water management. Ankara wants to institutionalize its relations with Iraq and plans to ink various agreements on these issues. The two countries also aim to create a strategic framework for all aspects of their relationship and establish joint standing committees on counterterrorism, trade, energy, water and transport.

Ahead of his visit, Erdogan signaled Turkiye’s intention to launch a military incursion into Iraq and Syria. He said on Monday that Turkiye would “complete unfinished business” with the PKK and its offshoot, the YPG, in northern Iraq and Syria by this summer. Fidan also said that Iran may be included in the economic and security dimensions of the discussions, as Ankara often discusses Iraq and the issue of terrorism when holding meetings with Tehran.

Turkish officials have reportedly stated that Ankara’s main purpose in these operations is to eliminate the presence of the PKK, which has the potential to seriously threaten the Iraq Development Road Project — a planned 1,200-km highway and railway project that will connect the Arabian Gulf to Turkiye through Iraq. Turkiye aims to secure the area for the construction of the project by “killing two birds with one stone.”

Both Turkiye and Iraq, as well as the Gulf states, want to see the project finalized, as it will allow goods to be carried from Al-Faw port in Iraq’s Basra governorate to international markets via Turkiye. The primary objective of the project is to enhance economic cooperation between Iraq, Turkiye, the Gulf states and Europe. This is in line with Turkiye’s economy-oriented foreign policy paradigm and makes Iraq a strategic priority for Ankara. This fits in with the security and economic fields being related when it comes to Turkiye’s relations with Iraq.

Three factors have been motivating Turkiye’s approach. Domestically, last year’s election victories for Erdogan have given the government the confidence to focus more on economic gains in foreign policy. The second factor is related to the regional environment, which is now more suitable for Turkiye to cooperate with neighboring states. Ankara wants to eliminate terrorist threats through cooperation with regional countries. In the past, neither Baghdad nor Tehran were supportive in the fight against the PKK. The third factor is related to the US’ position on Turkiye’s counterterrorism operations. Ankara and Washington have been at odds due to the latter’s support for the YPG in Syria. However, in recent months, a positive track in Turkish-American relations has emerged.

Overall, the conditions both at home and in the region are pushing Turkiye to consolidate its policies in Iraq, driven by both security imperatives and economic interests and underpinned by regional cooperation. Things will become clearer with Erdogan’s anticipated visit to Iraq.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz


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