Maliki proposes south-north energy corridor
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (R) in Baghdad on Nov 10. AA photo“My security council advised me not to go to Karbala due to security problems. I have listened to and thanked them. They did their job. But I decided to go. This is how we regard foreign policy.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made this statement while returning from his visit to Iraq, which has faced a bloody terror campaign recently, in which nearly 1,000 people have been killed monthly.
Baghdad is still like it is in a civil war, with checkpoints on every corner while even the Green Zone is no longer fully secure. Under extraordinary security measures, Davutoğlu’s convoy visited the Sunni and Shiite districts of Baghdad late Sunday under very heavy rain. Visits to Najaf and Karbala, holy cities for Shiites, in the middle of the Muharram month were like an episode of an action movie. As tens of thousands Shiites flocked to these holy cities, visiting the sites of Imam Hussein or Imam Abbas was nearly an adventure.
“Whoever saw me, wanted to hug me calling ‘Oğlu is here, Oğlu is here’. One of them nearly broke my glasses while hugging. We have a received a very warm reception in both of these cities. Would they embrace us if we were implementing a Sunni-based sectarian policy?” asked Davutoğlu. I’m not sure whether the worries over an expanded sectarian clash in the Middle East will soon fade, but it is obvious that Davutoğlu’s visit to the region was timely and necessary.
The entire Middle East is passing through a dire strait and concerns of an expanded version of sectarian clash are growing. As the minister Davutoğlu puts it, there are obvious attempts to drag Turkey into this conflict. The impression that Turkey is in support of Sunni radical groups inside Syria was very rapidly spreading through the region especially in Iraq and in Iran, making Turkish interests in the region more vulnerable. Davutoğlu’s visit to the two cities is sending the right message that Turkey is not favoring one sect to another and is remaining at the same distance from all ethnic and sectarian groups in Iraq.
Davutoğlu’s initiative should also find its repercussions in the internal scene as the Alevi community of this country has been increasingly feeling isolated. The government’s commitment to its own Alevi people will have a better reflection in its approaches toward the Shiite groups elsewhere.
But his meeting with al-Maliki was also very important and could create a good beginning for deepened cooperation between the two countries.
Al-Maliki proposed that Turkey build a south-north pipeline to transport Iraqi oil and natural gas to world markets through Turkish territory, Davutoğlu told us.
“‘Let’s construct together the south-north energy corridor’ said Mr. al-Maliki to me.
“What would be the consequences of establishing such a corridor? It would bring about such a mutual dependence that it would also help resolve the conflict between Sunni and Shiite. Because it will pass through Sunni territories as well and will reach Turkey. We should establish such mutual dependences,” Davutoğlu said.
He did not give details about al-Maliki’s proposal. But Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yıldız had said in the past that the two countries could think over constructing a 1,200-kilometer pipeline to carry Iraqi sources to Turkey, along with the Kerkük-Yumurtalık pipeline operating since 1974. Of course more pipelines would create more bonds between the two countries in a way that Davutoğlu says would be “to provide more mutual dependence.” The Iraqi government had issued licenses for Turkish companies in the oil-rich southern town of Basra, but political problems nixed joint efforts to effectuate these licenses.
Turkish officials regarded al-Maliki’s move important and underlined that upcoming future technical talks will surely evaluate this proposal. On the other hand, officials said this proposal would not affect Turkey’s plans to deepen its energy ties with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as neither is an alternative to the other.
“This kind of mutual dependence is also an assurance of Turkey’s security,” Davutoğlu said, underlining that his talks with both al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari were very good and fruitful.
‘Yes, al-Maliki was right about al-Assad’
The ongoing civil war in Syria and the worrying about the issue of the presence of al-Qaeda affiliated groups were also on the agenda of Davutoğlu and al-Maliki during their Sunday encounter, the minister said. Davutoğlu recalled that he initiated mediation between Maliki and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad four years ago, over the former’s complaints that radical extremist groups were being sent into Iraq through Damascus.
“When we met in this room four years ago you said to me, ‘You are a very well-intention man. You do not know this man. I know him well. He is behind all terror activities in Iraq. He is the one who let al-Qaeda groups infiltrate my country and operate. They can do any kind of menacing activities or brutalities.’ And now I tell you that you were right.”
Davutoğlu recalled this anecdote upon questions in regard to growing belief in both Iraq and Iran that Turkey is behind some of these extremist groups in Syria. “I ask now, How come al-Assad can be described as a very clean person and all the blame is put on Turkey? When I raised this point, he (Maliki) did not say much, because he has also made similar statements in the past,” he added.
Davutoğlu dismissed claims that Turkey was in a competition with Iraq and Iran over a sectarian basis, underlining that Turkey was well aware that such competitions or conflicts will not bring any advantage to any country in the region. “Some circles are trying to drag Turkey into a sectarian conflict and to depict Turkey as the suspect of regional plots. We will not allow this. We have never supported radical groups,” he added.
The foreign minister also criticized western powers and their media for trying to create the impression that al-Qaeda affiliated group were in fact under Turkey’s protection. When recalled recent reports in the international media that even citizens from Western countries could easily cross into northern Syria to fight along the radical groups, Davutoğlu said he told his counterparts numerous times about this issue.
“If you know who these people are who may join radical groups, you should inform us and give a list. They reject this on the basis of their democratic norms. What about us? Are we authoritarian or totalitarian? How we will stop these people? They won’t share intelligence with us but they will await our cooperation.”