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Turkey’s Erdogan in rare Iraq visit to discuss water, oil, security

By AFP - Apr 23,2024 - Last updated at Apr 23,2024

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the signing of the ‘Development Road’ framework agreement on security, economy, and development in Baghdad on Monday (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived on Monday in neighbouring Iraq for his first state visit there in years, with water, oil and regional security issues expected to top the agenda.

Erdogan was greeted with a 21-gun salute at Baghdad’s international airport by Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al Sudani, state television showed, with the Iraqi and Turkish national anthems played by a marching band.

The Turkish leader is scheduled to hold meetings with Sudani and President Abdel Latif Rashid in Baghdad before visiting officials in Arbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region.

“Iraq and Turkey share a history and have similarities, interests and opportunities, but also problems,” Sudani said during an event at the Atlantic Council on the sidelines of a recent visit to Washington.

“Water and security will be at the top of the agenda,” he said of the upcoming meeting with Erdogan, who last visited Iraq in 2011.

The trip comes as regional tensions spiral, fuelled by the Hamas-Israel war in the Gaza Strip and attacks between Israel and Iran.

Farhad Alaaldin, foreign affairs adviser to Sudani, told AFP that the main topics Erdogan will discuss with Iraqi officials include “investments, trade... security aspects of the cooperation between the two countries, water management and water resources”.

Alaaldin expects the signing of several memoranda of understanding during the visit.

The sharing of water resources is a major point of contention, with Baghdad highly critical of upstream dams set up by Turkey on their shared Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have worsened water scarcity in Iraq.

Erdogan said the issue of water would be “one of the most important points” of his visit following “requests” made by the Iraqi side. 

“We will make an effort to resolve them, that is also their wish,” he said.

 

‘Strategic agreement’ 

 

Iraqi oil exports are another point of tension, with a major pipeline shut down for over a year over legal disputes and technical issues.

The exports were previously independently sold by the autonomous Kurdistan region, without the approval or oversight of the central administration in Baghdad, through the Turkish port of Ceyhan. 

The halted oil sales represent more than $14 billion in lost revenues for Iraq, according to an estimate by the Association of the Petroleum Industry of Kurdistan which represents international oil companies active in the region.

Majid Al Lajmawi, Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, hopes for “progress on the water and energy issues, and in the process of resuming Iraqi oil exports via Turkey”, according to a statement published by the Iraqi foreign ministry.

The ambassador also expects the signing of a “strategic framework agreement” on security, economy and development.

Also on the agenda is a $17 billion road and rail project known as the “Route of Development” which is expected to consolidate economic ties between the two neighbours.

Stretching 1,200 kilometres across Iraq, it aims to connect by 2030 the northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south.

In the first quarter of 2024, Iraq was Turkey’s fifth-largest importer of products, buying food, chemicals, metals and other products.

 

‘Safeguard the borders’ 

 

Regional security is another topic expected to be thrashed out during Erdogan’s meetings in Iraq.

For decades, Turkey has operated from several dozen military bases in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara and its Western allies.

Both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkey’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.

But the operations, which sometimes take place deep into Iraqi territory, have regularly strained bilateral ties, while Ankara has sought out increased cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against the PKK.

However, in a televised interview in March, Iraqi Defence Minister Thabet Al Abbasi ruled out “joint military operations” between Baghdad and Ankara.

He said they would establish a “coordination intelligence centre at the appropriate time and place”.

Alaaldin, the Iraqi prime minister’s adviser, said security issues will be “highly featured in this trip”.

“There will be some sort of agreement... and perhaps arrangements to safeguard the borders between Iraq and Turkey where no attacks and no armed groups infiltrate the border from both sides,” he said.

“It is something that will be discussed but the exact details have to be worked out.”

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