Erdogan's Iraq visit: Water, trade, security in focus

The New Region

Apr. 21, 2024 • 4 min read
Image of Erdogan's Iraq visit: Water, trade, security in focus

Turkish President Erdogan's landmark visit to Iraq signals a pivotal moment for enhancing cooperation on water management, trade, and security, amidst expectations for increased collaboration against the PKK.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region of Iraq - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's upcoming visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region marks a significant diplomatic milestone, being his first since 2011. The one-day trip holds special importance as it addresses critical issues like water management, pivotal for both nations, and bilateral cooperation between the two countries. 

The New Region reached out to two experts for insights into Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's upcoming visit to Iraq. 

Former Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, Hassan Al-Janabi, highlighted the significant implications of Erdogan's visit to Iraq for water management and bilateral cooperation between the two countries. "Very substantial indeed," remarked Al-Janabi, "It should have happened back in Oct 2019 (He was Iraq’s Ambassador to Ankara then) when we prepared the ground for a successful visit," noting the missed opportunity during his tenure. He emphasized, "a steady and substantial development in bilateral relations, including in the field of water cooperation." Al-Janabi expressed optimism about the current stability in Iraq under the leadership of a proactive prime minister, stating, "It is feasible that both countries will embark on turning the water issues into an opportunity for further cooperation not a competition on this vital transboundary resource." He underscored, "The currently valid MOU between Iraq and Turkey on water should be utilized fully to achieve the interest of both nations in the spirit of neighborly relations.

Additionally, Al-Janabi addressed whether this visit, the first since 2011, might herald a new phase in Iraq-Turkey relations. "Yes, I do," Al-Janabi affirmed, "I believe that Iraq-Turkey’s model of bilateral cooperation would get a major boost towards further enhanced economic, cultural, and security cooperation." 

Meanwhile, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a Research Fellow at the Istanbul-based international think tank Al Sharq Strategic Research, provided insight into the current state of Turkish-Iraqi relations and the potential impact of Erdogan's visit on these ties. "The current state of Turkish-Iraqi relations stands at a high diplomatic level," Cengiz remarked, "and is expected to be strengthened with President Erdogan's landmark visit to Iraq." He emphasized the significance of Iraq's position in Turkish foreign policy, noting, "Iraq is in a pivotal position due to Ankara's trade relations with Baghdad and Erbil, as well as the security file stemming from the PKK's growing presence in Iraq."

Cengiz further elaborated on Ankara's efforts to foster a productive relationship with various components of the Iraqi government, stating, "Ankara wants to have a functioning relationship with different components of the Iraqi government." He highlighted the importance of high-level meetings with Popular Mobilization Forces' (PMF) leaders in both Baghdad and Ankara, noting that these meetings "may not be an obstacle in front of Turkish-Iraqi relations in the future." Cengiz suggested that these meetings have yielded positive results, particularly in the context of the Development Road Project, which "will elevate the relations between Ankara and Baghdad to a new level." Cengiz also remarked that "overall, 2024 may be a turning point for Iraqi-Turkish relations at the trade and security files in terms of amplifying collaboration.”

Cengiz also discussed the security challenges in the region and speculated on the measures or agreements Turkey might pursue to enhance security cooperation with Iraq during Erdogan's visit. "For the time being, Turkey seems to be content with Baghdad's recent decision to add the PKK to the list of 'banned organizations in Iraq'," noted Cengiz. He emphasized Turkey's expectations for further action from Iraq, stating, "Of course, Turkey expects more and wants Iraq to declare the PKK as a 'terrorist organization' and ban its activities on Iraqi soil." Cengiz highlighted Turkey's desire for Iraqi army and security forces to actively combat the PKK alongside Turkey, acknowledging that this goal may not be immediately achievable.

Nevertheless, Cengiz continued, "Turkey expects better coordination with Baghdad, at least in its operations against the PKK presence in Iraq." He suggested that this collaboration could manifest in Iraq's assistance to Turkey in logistical issues, intelligence gathering, and actions against PKK-affiliated figures. Cengiz expressed Turkey's growing concern over the PKK's increasing influence in areas such as Mosul, Kirkuk, and Sulaymaniyah, stating, "Thus, Turkey is increasingly worried, and Ankara will expect Baghdad to at least decrease this influence, if not destroy it altogether."

Also, in an exclusive interview with The New Region, the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, Aoun Diab highlighted the importance of the Turkish President's visit especially with regards to reaching an agreement on the outstanding water issue. 

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