Turkey won’t engage with Barzani before Baghdad-Arbil deal reached

Turkey won’t engage with Barzani before Baghdad-Arbil deal reached

Amid Turkey’s military and political preparations for an offensive into the Afrin district of Syria to combat the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will pay a very important visit to Iraq on Jan. 21.

At first glance, Turkey’s probable military operation into Afrin might not be of particular concern of the Iraqi government for geographical reasons. But that assumption would not be accurate.

Although Iraq announced victory against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and declared that it had liberated all of its territories from jihadist terrorists in December 2017, it is still cooperating with the U.S.-led international coalition in order to prevent a resurgence of similar terror groups and to stop the infiltration of jihadist remnants from Syria into Iraq.

Only a few days ago, a U.S. military official outlined a plan to establish a sort of 30,000-strong border security force made of mainly YPG elements to be deployed on Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq. Although senior U.S. government officials backtracked on this plan after Turkey’s harsh reaction, it is still very likely that Washington will continue its alliance with the YPG, especially along the Iraqi border.

In an interview this week with CNN Türk, Iraqi Ambassador to Ankara Ibrahim al-Alavi said U.S. plans to establish a 30,000-strong army have been discussed between the Turkish and Iraqi prime ministers in a phone conversation earlier this week.

“The Iraqi position is very clear. We support Syria’s territorial integrity and we don’t endorse initiatives that would endanger the unity of Syria. The U.S. has own reasons to supporting some groups in Syria that also include the YPG.

But we don’t believe in the creation of an army and if they have an intention to form their own state [in Syria] that would further complicate the situation,” al-Alavi said.

These remarks come from an ambassador whose country struggled to maintain its territorial integrity and political unity in the face of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum in September 2017. Both neighboring countries, Turkey and Iran, provided considerable support to the central Iraqi government to invalidate the KRG’s referendum, which helped Ankara and Baghdad open a new page in their troubled ties.

Since then, the two countries have revived military, political and economic ties with high-level visits to each other’s capitals. These will continue in the short run before Iraq goes to parliamentary elections in May, diplomatic sources say, also stressing that a high-level economic and strategic council meeting will likely take place in Ankara in the coming months.

That is why Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Baghdad is very important: His talks will cover both recent regional developments and prospects for improved Ankara-Baghdad ties. One important difference is the fact that Çavuşoğlu’s visit will not include Arbil, because Turkey will not revive ties with the KRG before a deal is reached between the regional and central government, as a senior government official told me recently. That is why KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s requests to visit Turkey have not been positively responded to, the official added.

Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Baghdad is therefore another message to Arbil that it should immediately accept the terms and conditions of the central government and return to normalcy before re-instating ties with Ankara.

Serkan Demirtaş, hdn, Opinion