Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to visit Iraq next week

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to visit Iraq next week
Several pending issues, including PKK, water, and Iraqi oil export via Ceyhan port, are anticipated to be addressed during the visit.
5 min read
19 April, 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 President Erdogan's first official visit to Iraq since 2011 is set for Monday, confirmed by Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler, the  Arabic version of AFP reported on Wednesday.

"One of the most important agenda items of our visit is the water issue. They have made some requests regarding water, and we are working on these issues. We will make efforts to resolve this issue with them. They already want to resolve this matter. We will take steps in this direction," Turkey's State Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan on Tuesday. There are also issues regarding natural gas and oil flow to Turkey, and Erdogan added that he would try to address them. 

Additionally, he hinted at a possible visit to Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, following the Baghdad trip and holding meetings with Kurdish officials.

The New Arab contacted Ahmed al-Sahaf, spokesperson for Iraq's foreign affairs ministry, and members of the Iraqi parliament's foreign relations committee; however, they were not immediately available to comment on the issue. 

Guler also indicated on Wednesday that Baghdad and Ankara may sign a "strategic agreement" on the sidelines of the visit.

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.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani made an official visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara, in March 2023, heading a large ministerial and security delegation. During the visit, several files were discussed, most notably security, borders, water, energy and expanding trade between the two countries.

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"Erdogan's visit to Iraq is a complement to the Iraqi PM Sudani's visit to Turkey where both leaders discussed Iraq's Route of Development project, which is a key road for both countries contenting the Gulf to Turkey and then Europe. The project is expected to be one of the crucial issues that will be discussed during Erdogan's visit to Iraq," Yassin Taha, a Kurdish political observer, told TNA. "Iraq and Turkey need more cooperation to implement the key project, and the most important obstacle in front of the project is security because there are concerns that the PKK militants are a danger and hindrance for the route. Hence, an expected security deal between both Baghdad and Ankara would be aimed at how to secure the route."

"Another topic that is expected to be discussed is Iraq's efforts to resume its northern oil exports to Turkey bypassing the Kurdistan region's oil pipeline to Turkey," Taha noted, clarifying that Iraq is concerned about halting 80 per cent of its oil exports via the Gulf if the current tensions between Iran and Israel lead to Tehran's closure of the Strait of Hormuz to the international oil markets.

He also indicated that Iraq relies on Ankara for water, and the country's water scarcity issue remains one of its challenges, which Ankara exploits to its ends.

He also said that Iraq is a significant market for Turkish imports and trade, and Baghdad is a critical energy supplier to Turkey. Consequently, the visit carries substantial economic implications for both countries, especially against the backdrop of the notable depreciation of the Turkish currency. Additionally, Iraq's endeavours to diversify its oil exports further underscore the importance of this visit."

He stressed that the visit would also be an achievement for PM Sudani following his trip to Washington, and Sudani would be seen locally as a "statesman" for dealing with Iraq's challenges.

Massoud Abdul Khaliq, a Kurdish political observer and head of the Standard Kurd media institution, told TNA last month that 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," Abdul Khaliq said. "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."

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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). 

 The significant bilateral trade volume underscored Iraq's importance as a trade partner for Turkey. In the first quarter of 2024, Iraq ranked as the fifth-largest importer of Turkish products.

 Erdogan's last official visit to Iraq was in March 2011, during his tenure as prime minister. With his forthcoming visit, Erdogan aims to recalibrate bilateral relations and foster closer cooperation between Turkey and Iraq.

The Turkish army is pursuing Kurdistan Workers' Party fighters in Iraqi territories, in the Kurdistan Region, and the Sinjar Mountain area, and has established tens of military bases without permission from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

 Turkish drones regularly conduct airstrikes in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, allegedly targeting militants from the PKK but often killing or injuring civilians.  

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

Since 25 March 2023, 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.