Sunday, May 19, 2024

Turkey’s president in Iraq to push for reset of bilateral ties, cooperation against PKK

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan began a rare visit to Iraq on Monday aiming to reset rocky bilateral relations with a raft of deals covering energy, trade and security cooperation against Kurdish PKK militants.

Erdogan’s long-awaited visit is the first by a Turkish leader since 2011 and follows years of strained relations as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against PKK militants based in mountainous, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.

“President Erdogan stated that Turkey had expectations from Iraq in the battle with the PKK terrorist organisation, that Iraq must eradicate all sorts of terror,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement after Erdogan’s talks with Iraqi President President Abdul Latif Rashid.

Rashid – the most senior Kurdish official in Iraq – stated Iraq supported joint work to fight terrorism and was against its territory being used to attack any neighbours, the Iraqi presidency added. But Rashid also said Iraq opposed any attacks on its territory.

Iraq has announced Turkish operations violate its sovereignty and have killed civilians. Ankara says it must protect itself against the PKK, which Turkey and its Western allies designate as a terrorist group.

Turkey plans a new swoop on the militants this spring and has sought Iraqi military cooperation, in the form of a joint operations room, as well as recognition by Baghdad of the PKK threat.

Cooperation on big economic projects are also on the table.

Iraq last year launched a $17 billion Development Road project, which seeks to turn the country into a transit hub, connecting Asia and Europe with a link between Iraq’s Grand Faw Port in the oil-rich south and Turkey in the north.

Baghdad is also seeking a deal to secure a larger share of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, both of which originate in Turkey and are the main source of freshwater in drought-stricken Iraq.

Rashid told Erdogan that Iraq was entitled to its “fair share” of that water, the Iraqi presidency noted.

Iraqi and Turkish officials say more than 20 memorandums of understanding would be signed during Erdogan’s one-day visit.
Bilateral trade was worth $19.9 billion in 2023, down from $24.2 billion in 2022, according to official Turkish data. In the first three months of 2024, Turkish exports to Iraq rose by 24.5%, while imports fell by 46.2%.

Erdogan is set to meet Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Baghdad, then travel to Erbil, the provincial capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed since then.

Since 2019, Turkey has conducted a series of cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the PKK dubbed “Claw”.

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