Turkish FM holds talks in northern Iraq

Turkish FM holds talks in northern Iraq

Turkish FM holds talks in northern Iraq

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held meetings in Arbil in northern Iraq where he met Turkmen and Kurdish politicians on April 29, suggesting opening a new border crossing with Iraq.

“Opening a new border crossing in Ovaköy will be beneficial for both Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government [KRG],” Çavuşoğlu said on his Twitter account.

“We will focus on combating the PKK, DEASH and FETÖ terrorism with the KRG,“ he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL. Çavuşoğlu also visited Basra city.

Ankara and Baghdad have been discussing opening alternative gates for more than a decade, including in Ovaköy, but parties are yet to take any steps. The Habur border gate, through which 1.6 million vehicles pass annually, has not been able to meet the demands for trade between Iraq and Turkey.

The minister also held separate talks with KRG leader Nechirvan Barzani and KRG Security Agency Undersecretary Masrour Barzani.

“Our relations with all regions and groups of Iraq are progressing. We will be more visible in the private sector and our businessmen in Sulaymaniyah,” he said after meeting with Qubad Talabani, the deputy head of the KRG.

The visit by the minister to the oil-rich country comes after the United States announced that it is ending an exception from unilateral sanctions for a number of countries importing oil from Iran, including Turkey.

Turkey is expected to rebalance its oil supplies after the U.S. announced it would end the waivers that have allowed Turkey to import from Iran despite sanctions. Iraq is one of Turkey’s leading suppliers of crude oil where Ankara compensates for the Iranian product.

Çavuşoğlu’s visit also comes as Turkey pressures Iraq to intensify its fight against the PKK on its territories and to cooperate with the Turkish military to this end in northern Iraq, where the illegal group has its main headquarters and training camps.

The Turkish government’s relations with the KRG are in process of restoration after Turkey had strongly opposed a unilateral referendum for the independence of the KRG in September 2017.

“Our Turkmen brothers and sisters, the second largest ethnic group of the KRG and third of Iraq, should be duly represented both in Iraq and the KRG,” Çavuşoğlu also said on Twitter.

The minister discussed the current situation of the Iraqi Turkmens during his meeting with Turkmen politicians and members of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Arbil, the administrative capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.

On April 28, Çavuşoğlu met with his Iraqi counterpart Mohamed Ali al-Hakim and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi as part of his official two-day visit to the country.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is due to visit Iraq as part of the 4th High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting towards the end of this year, Çavuşoğlu said on April 28.