Turkey deepens its alliance with Barzani

Turkey deepens its alliance with Barzani

A coincidence or not, Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu’s first visit abroad immediately after the parliamentary elections was to northern Iraq, where he held meetings with senior Iraqi Kurdish leaders, including Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani. 

The minister’s visit, as highlighted by media reports, was in a mood of direct support to Barzani’s leadership in northern Iraq, although the region’s iconic Kurdish leader is facing some in-house difficulties. In his address to a conference held by the Middle East Research Institute on Nov. 4, Minister Sinirlioğlu recalled Turkey’s continued support to the KRG in the face of growing danger posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

These following lines, however, displayed the importance and value Turkey pays to Barzani’s KRG: “We are convinced that the people of the KRG have the necessary vision, strong determination and requisite ingenuity to steer this region back to the right track and once again assume its rightful role as a locomotive that can lead Iraq out of the dire straits it is in.”

Sinirlioğlu’s meetings with Iraqi Kurdish leaders were not only focused on recent developments in northern Iraq and on the fight against ISIL. Media reports underlined the minister also asked Barzani to restrict the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region. 

The two men should also have reviewed recent developments in northern Syria, where the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), are in control. Barzani’s affiliates and their armed forces in northern Syria have been expelled from northern Syria to northern Iraq on the basis that they refused to cooperate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Turkish source. 

It could be well said the current picture creates a sort of renewed alliance between Ankara and Erbil against the PYD’s growing regional influence. 

This alliance is in fact multidimensional. It has economic and energy aspects as well as political overlaps on many fronts. Turkey is eager to invest in energy reserves in northern Iraq and let the products be transferred to the rest of the world via its territory. 

As Sinirlioğlu put it, “We are also resolved to further improve our economic cooperation in every way. This will bolster the unshakable foundation on which our partnership continues to thrive. By developing the means to serve our peoples better, we will also be able to more effectively shoulder the burden that the extraordinary circumstances have put on our shoulders. In short, let me leave you with one simple message: Turkey is fully committed to assisting Iraq and the KRG in every way. We will stand with you as you march toward the bright future you absolutely deserve.”

In a geography where two neighboring countries, Iraq and Syria, have been nearly dysfunctional as states, it’s very normal for Turkey to seek new partners and allies to work with for its own national interests. With Sinirlioğlu’s promise that Turkey will continue its military and humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and the KRG in their fight against ISIL, it should be thought that one of the leading targets of this alliance will be ISIL, and then the PYD’s growing role in northern Syria and the PKK presence in northern Iraq.     

Ankara-Erbil relations should be read within this context, which signal a more concentrated and intensified alliance.