Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges

Special Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, right, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a welcoming ceremony at Baghdad International Airport, in Baghdad on April 22, 2024. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 22 April 2024
Follow

Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges

Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges
  • Baghdad’s acquiescence to backing Ankara’s fight against PKK will likely determine extent of cooperation on other thorny issues such as water and oil, analyst says
  • Senior officials in Ankara have recently hinted at plans for a major military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq this summer

ANKARA: As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a much-anticipated visit to Iraq on Monday, the first in 12 years, the two countries are expected to deepen security and economic cooperation while seeking ways to promote regional stability.

Erdogan’s delegation includes the country’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, Defense Minister Yasar Guler, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, his Chief Adviser Akif Cagatay Kilic and other ministers.

The president’s itinerary includes key meetings with his Iraqi counterpart Dr. Abdullatif Rashid before talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.

In the afternoon, Erdogan was to meet with Kurdish officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s capital Irbil.

Experts say the visit will mark a positive shift in Turkish-Iraqi relations.

Addressing Iraqi concerns over water resources and signing strategic agreements on security, energy, trade, transportation, and health are also expected to lay the framework for future avenues of cooperation.

Water supply has become a sticking point in recent years, with Baghdad demanding more water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — two main rivers that flow from Turkiye to the Arabian Gulf and account for more than 90 percent of Iraq’s freshwater resources.

In his meetings with Iraqi and Kurdish officials, Erdogan is seeking support for counter-terrorism efforts by jointly tackling the threat posed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.

Dr. Bilgay Duman, coordinator of Iraq studies at the Ankara-based ORSAM think tank, said Turkiye’s aim with the visit was not to outdo any regional player, Iran or otherwise.

He told Arab News that Ankara “wants to create a regional dynamic given the current tension between Israel and Iran, the regional crises in the Red Sea, and the lack of a solution in Syria, which have necessitated some bilateral cooperation with Baghdad and Irbil.”

Berkay Mandiraci, a senior Turkiye analyst at the International Crisis Group, says a key question will be how Baghdad will support Turkiye’s campaign against the PKK.

Last month, Iraq’s National Security Council declared the PKK an outlawed organization in Iraq, signaling a growing willingness by the Iraqi authorities to fight the terrorist group. But now, the focus is on how Iraq can limit the PKK’s mobility on its territory.

Fidan, the foreign minister, and intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin visited Baghdad last month. 

“As Turkiye, we will work for the stability of Iraq,” Fidan said recently.

“We don’t want Iraq to be associated with internal conflicts.”

For Mandiraci, Baghdad’s acquiescence to backing Turkiye’s fight against the PKK will likely determine the extent of cooperation on other thorny issues such as water and oil.

A series of operations launched by Ankara since 2019 succeeded in pushing the PKK from the northern mountainous regions to Iraq’s southern urban areas, such as Kirkuk, Sinjar and Sulaymaniyah.

“The PKK began to confront the Iraqi central authority while also posing a greater threat to Baghdad. But Iraq has no such experience in confronting the terrorist group on a large scale. That is why it needs to cooperate with Ankara in developing measures and increasing the capacity of its armed forces to fight the PKK more actively. Baghdad is striving to become a state that has full control over internal threats by suppressing the factors of instability,” Duman said.

However, bilateral cooperation should not be limited to the joint fight against the PKK, as it will encompass a broader agenda for regional development.

During the talks, the Turkiye-Iraq Development Road project, which will stretch some 1,200 km and aims to link Iraq’s nascent Grand Faw port to Turkiye’s southern border and then to Europe via railways and highways, also featured on the agenda as it opens a new page in Ankara-Baghdad relations.

According to Duman, Turkiye could propose enlisting the support of the UAE and Qatar in this project by preparing a four-way agreement and actively participating in creating industrial cities and trade centers along this route. This would boost economic dynamism and undermine instability factors by creating wealth.

Turkiye has significantly increased its exports to Iraq this year, with sales rising by nearly $691.5 million from January to March.

Baghdad and Ankara “share an interest in the progress of the Development Road project. As a new trade route, it could play a significant role in stabilizing Iraq in the longer term and bring important economic dividends to both countries,” Mandiraci said.

But he added that building the project would not be easy, with Iran worried about its territory being bypassed.

“And Iran could play spoiler,” Mandiraci said, adding: “It will require careful and multi-vector diplomacy to reduce and manage the security and geopolitical risks associated with the initiative.” 

During his visit, Erdogan planned to meet with the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani, while talks were also expected with officials of the Iraqi Turkmen Front and Turkmen community leaders.

Through this visit, Duman said that Turkiye would mediate between Irbil and Baghdad on many fronts, as consensus between the two is crucial in the fight against the PKK and in the continuation of the Development Road project, as security must be restored in the regions crossed by the road. 

Senior officials in Ankara have recently hinted at plans for a major military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq this summer. 

Turkiye is also seeking to establish a 30-40 km security corridor along its border with Iraq and to supplement it with military installations in coordination with Baghdad. 

“For Turkiye, Irbil and Baghdad are not alternatives but complementary,” Duman said.

“During this visit, I expect a joint large-scale operation between Turkiye and Baghdad to eradicate the PKK’s presence in the region to be discussed. But such a joint effort is not limited to the military struggle because, at the same time, the PKK is trying to gain a foothold through civilian formations based in Iraq.

“As its military reach shrinks, it tries to infiltrate the civil and political sphere. Iraq and Irbil may try to deepen cooperation with Turkiye in this area.”


Israel orders Spain to stop consular services for Palestinians from June 1

Israel orders Spain to stop consular services for Palestinians from June 1
Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

Israel orders Spain to stop consular services for Palestinians from June 1

Israel orders Spain to stop consular services for Palestinians from June 1
  • Israel statement: Spain’s consulate in Jerusalem is ‘authorized to provide consular services to residents of the consular district of Jerusalem only’
JERUSALEM: Israel’s foreign ministry said Monday it had told the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering consular services to Palestinians from June 1 over Madrid’s recognition of a Palestinian state.
The ministry said in a statement that Spain’s consulate in Jerusalem is “authorized to provide consular services to residents of the consular district of Jerusalem only, and is not authorized to provide services or perform consular activity vis-a-vis residents of the Palestinian Authority.”

Israel army kills Palestinian teen after West Bank ‘attempted attack’

Israel army kills Palestinian teen after West Bank ‘attempted attack’
Updated 54 min 42 sec ago
Follow

Israel army kills Palestinian teen after West Bank ‘attempted attack’

Israel army kills Palestinian teen after West Bank ‘attempted attack’
  • The deadly incident took place near Hebron in the southern West Bank, the army and the Palestinian ministry said

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said its troops killed a Palestinian assailant in the occupied West Bank, with the Palestinian health ministry identifying him as a teenager.
Israeli forces “identified a terrorist who came in their direction and attempted to carry out a stabbing attack,” a military statement said.
“The soldiers fired at him and killed him,” it said.
The Palestinian health ministry identified the fatality as Majd Shahir Aramin, 14, and said he had been killed by Israeli forces.
The deadly incident took place near Hebron in the southern West Bank, the army and the Palestinian ministry said.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has seen a surge in violence for more than a year, but especially since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
According to Palestinian officials, at least 519 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops or settlers since the start of the war in the Gaza Strip.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 12 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.


Israeli police and Jewish pilgrims clash at beleaguered festival site

Israeli police and Jewish pilgrims clash at beleaguered festival site
Updated 27 May 2024
Follow

Israeli police and Jewish pilgrims clash at beleaguered festival site

Israeli police and Jewish pilgrims clash at beleaguered festival site
  • The all-night sessions of prayer, mystical songs and dance had in previous years drawn crowds in the tens of thousands
  • Police limited the number of attendees since the 2021 tragedy in which 45 people died in a crowd rush

JERUSALEM: Clashes erupted on Sunday between police and Jewish pilgrims at a religious festival site in northern Israel where three years ago 45 people died in a crowd crush, and which authorities closed this year due to rocket fire from Lebanon.

Since the 2021 tragedy at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage during the annual Lag B’Omer celebration, police have limited the number of attendees.

The all-night sessions of prayer, mystical songs and dance had in previous years drawn crowds in the tens of thousands.

This year’s festival was canceled since the site at Meron in the Galilee region has been targeted by rocket fire from Lebanon.

Many northern Israeli towns have been evacuated since Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon began firing at them following Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza.

Both sides have traded blows since. Despite the closure, police said they turned away thousands of pilgrims over the weekend, though hundreds managed to reach the site, where things got out of hand.

The visitors damaged property and hurled objects at officers, police said. Nineteen officers were injured.

Israeli media reported that several people among the unauthorized crowd were hurt. At least one officer was suspended for pushing an older man to the ground, and police said it was examining other incidents from the site.


Ten dead, 39 injured in southern Turkiye highway collision

Ten dead, 39 injured in southern Turkiye highway collision
Updated 27 May 2024
Follow

Ten dead, 39 injured in southern Turkiye highway collision

Ten dead, 39 injured in southern Turkiye highway collision

ISTANBUL: Ten people died and 39 others were injured in southern Turkiye on Sunday when an intercity bus collided with three other vehicles on a main highway, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.
The bus, traveling to Istanbul from Diyarbakir, crashed into a transport truck and two other vehicles in the Tarsus district near the Mediterranean city of Mersin, he said on social media platform X.
The government said an investigation had been launched.

 


Israel war cabinet to discuss new push for Gaza hostage deal

Israel war cabinet to discuss new push for Gaza hostage deal
Updated 27 May 2024
Follow

Israel war cabinet to discuss new push for Gaza hostage deal

Israel war cabinet to discuss new push for Gaza hostage deal
  • Hamas eader Izzat Al-Rishq jas accused Netanyahu earlier Sunday of “trying to buy more time to continue the aggression"

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he “strongly opposes” ending the war in Gaza, ahead of his war cabinet convening amid intense diplomacy to forge a truce and hostage release deal.

Meanwhile deadly fighting rocked the Gaza Strip and Hamas militants fired a salvo of rockets at Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv for the first time in months, sending people scrambling for shelter.
Netanyahu has long rejected Hamas’s demand in negotiations for a permanent end to the fighting, which was triggered by the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack and has left vast areas of besieged Gaza in ruins.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had earlier told AFP that “the war cabinet is expected to meet... tonight at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) to discuss a hostage release deal.”
A statement issued by Netanyahu’s office before the meeting said Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya “Sinwar continues to demand the end of the war, the withdrawal of the IDF (army) from the Gaza Strip and leaving Hamas in place, so that it will be able to carry out the atrocities of October 7 again and again,” referring to the attack that triggered the war.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly opposes this,” the statement said.
A member of Hamas’s political leadership, Izzat Al-Rishq, accused Netanyahu earlier Sunday of “trying to buy more time to continue the aggression.”
In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told journalists before meeting Palestinian premier Mohammed Mustafa that a strong Palestinian Authority (PA) was in Israel’s interest.
EU members Ireland and Spain, and also Norway, have said they will recognize the State of Palestine from Tuesday, drawing furious Israeli condemnation.
“A functional Palestinian Authority is in Israel’s interest too, because in order to make peace, we need a strong Palestinian Authority, not a weaker one,” Borrell said.
Mustafa, whose government is based in the occupied West Bank, said the “first priority” was to support people in Gaza, especially through a ceasefire, and then “rebuilding the institutions of the Palestinian Authority” there after Hamas seized it from the PA in 2007.
US President Joe Biden has pushed for renewed international efforts to halt the war, now in its eighth month.
The Israeli official had said Saturday that “there is an intention to renew these talks this week” after negotiations involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators stalled in early May.
However, Rishq said Sunday that so far, “we have not received anything from the mediators.”
He insisted on Hamas’s long-standing demand for a permanent cessation of hostilities as “the foundation and the starting point for anything.”


Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas following the October 7 attack, but has also faced growing domestic and international criticism.
The attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The military on Sunday announced the death of a soldier in north Gaza, taking to 289 the number of troops killed since Israel began its ground offensive in late October.
As the war ground on, the families of hostages still held by Palestinians militants have piled pressure on Netanyahu to secure a deal to free them.
Washington has also taken a tougher line with its close ally as outrage over the war and US support for Israel has become a major issue for Biden, seeking re-election in a battle against Donald Trump.
With more strikes reported Sunday across Gaza, Israel’s military said that over the past 24 hours it had destroyed “over 50 terror targets.”
Fighting has centered on the far-southern city of Rafah, where Israel launched a ground operation in early May despite widespread opposition over concerns for civilians sheltering there.
Rafah resident Moaz Abu Taha, 29, told AFP of “constant bombardment from land and air, which has destroyed many houses.”
Gaza’s civil defense agency said it had retrieved six bodies after a house was targeted in eastern Rafah.

Hamas’s armed wing said it had targeted Tel Aviv “with a large rocket barrage in response to the Zionist (Israeli) massacres against civilians.”
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a televised briefing that “Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired eight rockets at central Israel from Rafah.”
“Hamas launched these rockets from near two mosques in Rafah,” Hagari said. “Hamas is holding our hostages in Rafah, which is why we have been conducting a precise operation” there.
Analyst Neomi Neumann said the militants were not trying to “cause damage to Israel, but to maintain continuity of fire.”
They “shoot relatively few rockets per barrage from their diminishing arsenal, and choose when to concentrate their efforts,” said Neumann, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.
The UN has warned of looming famine in the besieged territory, where most hospitals are no longer functioning.
Amid the bloodiest ever Gaza war, Israel has faced growing global outcry over the surging civilian death toll, and landmark moves last week at two international courts.
Last Monday, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as for three top Hamas figures.
And on Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive or any other operation there that could bring about “the physical destruction” of the Palestinians.