Turkiye streamlines its relations with Iraq

Turkiye streamlines its relations with Iraq

Relations between Turkiye and Iraq have certainly improved in recent times. (Reuters)
Relations between Turkiye and Iraq have certainly improved in recent times. (Reuters)
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Relations between Turkiye and Iraq have certainly improved in recent times.
After the Second Gulf War, there was a shadow of American influence on Turkish-Iraqi relations. When the Turkish parliament refused to allow US troops to transit Turkiye to open a new front in the north of Iraq, Ankara’s relations with Washington hit a low point. Its effects are still visible in many areas, and the Pentagon accused the Turkish military establishment of not having played the leadership role it should have.
What Turkiye did at that time was nothing but obey the will of its parliament. There have been other unpleasant episodes in the meantime, but Turkish-US relations have never returned to their pre-Gulf War stage.
The relations between Turkiye and Iraq remained less than cordial for a long period. A thaw, however, started around a year ago. Turkiye came up with tangible cooperation projects, not only in security but also in economic areas. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Defense Minister Yasar Guler, and Ankara’s intelligence chief, Ibrahim Kalin, were busy giving substance to the cooperation.
In a meeting held last week between the two neighbors, several important decisions were adopted, but one of them is most important: The Iraqi delegation agreed in that meeting to consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Up to now, it had consistently avoided referring to the PKK as a terrorist organization. We do not know yet whether the Iraqi government — and eventually the Iraqi parliament — will also adopt the same position. We may not, of course, consider the PKK as dissolved with such a loose commitment. However, it is an important step in shaking its foundations in Iraq. There is a long way to go for the eradication of the PKK in Turkiye, in Syria, and in many Western countries.
Another meeting was held, this time at the strictly military level, in Iraq. Recent pictures made available by the Turkish Defense Ministry indicate that it was again held in northern Iraq with the participation of senior Turkish commander Lt. Gen. Metin Tokel. On the Iraqi side, there were the representatives of the central Iraqi authorities as well as the members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. In other words, almost everyone who should have been there was there.

Turkish-Iraqi relations have the potential to develop. What is needed is a strong will to improve them to the level that they deserve. 

Yasar Yakis

Both these meetings were a preparation for another more important meeting to be held in Baghdad with the participation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That meeting is scheduled for the last week of April. Turkiye wants to elevate the bilateral meetings with Iraq to the High Level Strategic Cooperation Councils. However, the title of such meetings does not always solve the problems. What is needed is a strong will to support cooperation.
The relations with Iraq have been ambivalent for a long time. Several attempts have been made to streamline them, but progress has remained modest. There are now signs of its reactivation.
The Turkish Defense Ministry has underlined that military operations are carried out in close cooperation with the Iraqi security authorities. While the security of the Turkish-Iraqi border has been the main purpose of the operations, the security of Iraqi citizens was also meticulously taken care of.
Iraq recently complained to the UN Security Council that Turkiye was violating its border because of the military operations it had carried out. Now, the same Iraq is cooperating with Turkiye to repel PKK assaults against Turkiye. This is an important change of policy on the Iraqi side.
The question of opening a transport corridor appeared on the agenda in an earlier meeting. In a sense, it was some kind of revival of another transport corridor first proposed in 1903 by Germany to link three capitals: Berlin, Belgrade, and Baghdad. An extension from Baghdad to Basra was later added to the project. After Turkey withdrew in 1923 from the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East, the idea of this major transport corridor fell into disuse. Only parts of it were revived in a scattered manner. The line between Aleppo and Baghdad was completed in 1930 and the first train from Istanbul to Baghdad did not run until 1940.
Now, with Turkish-Iraqi relations improving, a new version of this transport corridor from Basra to Turkiye has come on the agenda. As both sides reap the advantages of this corridor, they will regret that the corridor was not created earlier.
A thorny issue between Turkiye and Iraq is the question of the allocation of the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers among Syria, Turkiye, and Iraq. Syria is too busy at present with other priorities, but neither Iraq nor Syria are likely to put aside this important subject indefinitely. The question will come on the agenda sooner or later and neither Iraq nor Syria will give up their claims on water until an amicable solution is found for the problem. The Syrian leg of the question is dormant because of uncertainties in the country.
Turkish-Iraqi relations have the potential to develop. What is needed is a strong will to improve them to the level that they deserve.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. X: @yakis_yasar
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