Erdogan's Iraq visit seeks to get Baghdad's approval for anti-PKK military incursion

Erdogan's Iraq visit seeks to get Baghdad's approval for anti-PKK military incursion
Turkey is considering a military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, aiming to penetrate 40 kilometers into the region to pursue PKK militants.
5 min read
14 March, 2024
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani (L) hold a joint press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on 21 March 2023. [Getty]

Turkish and Iraqi officials said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Iraq either by late March or early next month to discuss bilateral political, security and economic issues.

Erdogan's last visit to Baghdad was in 2012 during his tenure as prime minister. His expected visit this year is considered very crucial in settling tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.     

Turkish deputy foreign minister Ahmet Yildiz told Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency on Tuesday that, according to the planning and preparations, the visit to Iraq is likely to occur before the end of April.

The visit will encompass the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan region, a senior official from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry revealed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic language sister publication, on Wednesday.

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, elaborated that Erdogan will head the visit with a delegation of high-ranking Turkish officials, business figures and representatives from various companies. The visit is slated to span two days in Baghdad and one day in Erbil.

The Iraqi government announced Erdogan's visit to the capital, Baghdad, on 26 June of last year for talks with Iraqi officials. However, the visit, which was supposed to take place shortly after its initial announcement, was postponed without an official comment from both countries about the reason for the delay.

Several pending issues, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), water, and the export of Iraqi oil through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, are expected to be addressed during the visit.

The PKK, formed in the late 1970s, seeks Kurdish autonomy in Turkey and is designated as a "terrorist organisation" by Turkey, the US, the UK, and the EU.

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"Erdogan's visit to Iraq has many political, security and economic aims. Erdogan will try to conclude a security agreement with the Iraqi government regarding border control and convince Baghdad to support Ankara's expected military operations against the PKK in April," Massoud Abdul Khaliq, a Kurdish political observer and head of the Standard Kurd media institution, told TNA. "Turkey wants a military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, aiming to penetrate 40 kilometres into the region to pursue PKK militants; however, it cannot carry out that operation without the consent of the Iraqi government, and I do not think Baghdad to agree to Turkey's demands."

He stressed that Erdogan's visit to Iraq comes after Iraqi officials refused a Turkish proposal for establishing a joint operations room against the PKK fighters in the Qandil Mountains in the Kurdistan region with the participation of Iraqi security forces, the Turkish army, and the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). 

He clarified that Turkey has suggested that Iraq pay thirty per cent of the expenses of the joint operations room, while Ankara is to pay 20 per cent, and the KRG is to pay 50 per cent. He added that to achieve that goal, Turkey even has breached US sanctions on Iran to convince the latter to fight the PKK jointly, but so far, Tehran has refused that. He pointed out that Erbil has made it clear it would fight the PKK if the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga, run by the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), officially adopted the operations.

Abdul Khaleq ruled out any near resumption of Iraqi oil exports from the northern fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, citing Ankara's unwillingness to resume the export and Iraq's efforts to build an alternative oil pipeline through Syria. He said the United States is against such a Turkish operation into the Kurdistan region.

Turkey has accused PUK of "harbouring" elements of the PKK in areas under its control in Sulaimaniya province and its surroundings, claims refuted by the party.

Erdogan openly threatened the party last month, saying that "Sulaimaniyah administration continues to support the terrorist organisation despite our repeated warnings. We have zero tolerance when it comes to our national security. We will do whatever is necessary." 

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The Iraqi official continued "The development road project file will be among the priorities of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's talks with Iraqi officials, due to its significant economic importance for Baghdad and Ankara."

On the other hand, political analyst Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's expected visit to Iraq will focus on resolving pending issues and concluding new agreements between the two countries. Turkey is an important player in the region on various levels, and it is significant for Iraq in developing bilateral relations and concluding new agreements between the two countries."

In March of last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani made an official visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara, heading a large ministerial and security delegation, during which several files were discussed, most notably security, borders, water, energy, and expanding trade between the two countries.

Iraqi Kurdistan began exporting oil independently to Turkey without the federal government's consent in 2014, sparking reprisals from Baghdad.

Since 25 March, Ankara has ceased importing 450,000 barrels from the Kurdistan region after an international tribunal found that Baghdad was correct in insisting on overseeing all Iraqi oil exports.

The tribunal, run by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), ordered Turkey to pay Baghdad damages of US$1.5 billion for allowing the KRG to export oil between 2014 and 2018 without the Iraqi government's consent. Despite the ruling, Turkey has not fulfilled the payment to Baghdad and insists on resuming oil exports only if Iraq waives the US$1.5 billion debt.