Iraq’s new president to pay his first visit to Turkey

Iraq’s new president to pay his first visit to Turkey

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Iraq’s new president to pay his first visit to Turkey

Iraqi President Barham Salih will pay his first official visit to Turkey on Dec. 3 following his election early October.

He will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and discuss all aspects of bilateral relations, evaluate opportunities to develop cooperation in various fields and exchange views on regional and international matters, according to the Turkish Presidency.

Salih, a former prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) from the ranks of the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK), is a familiar figure in Ankara, and his election as Iraqi president was welcomed by the Turkish government.

Turkish-Iraqi ties have been in progress since a visit by former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Baghdad in 2014, which came after political relations between the two countries had eroded during the previous Iraqi government, led by Nouri al-Maliki. But ties saw a breakthrough particularly after a firm stance by Ankara against the KRG’s independence referendum late September 2017, which Baghdad also opposed.

Turkey’s unilateral military interventions, mainly by airstrikes, against the PKK in northern Iraq have always been a source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad.

Moreover, Turkish soldiers deployed in northern Iraq to train Sunni Arabs against ISIL have also irked the Iraqi government, but the issue has gone untouched in the past few years.

Most recently, Iraq’s foreign ministry in December summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Baghdad to protest over what it called repeated airspace violations, after Turkish warplanes earlier carried out strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. It has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast.

The continued presence of the PKK in northern Iraqi territories will be another important issue of the discussions in Ankara.

Turkey has regularly carried out air strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq, as President Tayyip Erdoğan pursues his stated aim of ending the militant group’s presence near Turkey’s borders. Ankara has also threatened to launch a ground offensive in Sinjar region in northern Iraq where the group has advanced.

The Turkish air forces conducted an anti-terror operation in the Sinjar and Mount Karajak regions of northern Iraq in December on grounds that the group was trying to establish a new headquarters in the region. Despite Baghdad’s criticisms on the Turkish attack, the government had stressed that it will “continue fighting terrorists in Iraq” if the Iraqi government fails to do so.

Erdoğan and Salih will also exchange views on regional developments, particularly Syria, after the United States’ decision to withdraw troops from this country. A major concern is a potential re-grouping of ISIL, which still has support in some parts of Iraq and Syria. In a phone call with Erdoğan, Trump asked Turkey to fully eliminate the residues of ISIL in Syria.

Among issues to be discussed between the two presidents are ways to improve bilateral trade, cooperation in the field of energy and transportation, opening a second border gate and other issues to their mutual concern.

Iraq stands as one of Turkey’s top trade partners with around $9 billion trade volume in 2017.

Turkey claimed the biggest share for reconstruction of Iraq by pledging $5 billion in an international donor conference in Kuwait early 2018.