Erdoğan prepares for a visit to Iraq
Mehmet Ali Birand
Preparations for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan`s visit to Iraq have been made secretly. The reason for such clandestine preparation phase is mainly for security reasons. And perhaps the date will be kept secret until the last minute.
All parties, beginning with the Maliki government in Iraq, attach importance to this visit. Until now Turkey sent technical delegations only, and Foreign Ministry team as the highest level, to the Iraqi capital Baghdad. On the other hand, both President of Iraq Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki (twice) officially visited Ankara.
This journey to Iraq is of importance to Erdoğan as well. With this, Turkey will give support to the Maliki government and economic agreements to be signed. Turkey's policy on Iraq used to focus on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). A great deal of talks was on the PKK issue. But now a different approach is being adopted. Main policy of Ankara is to pay attention to Iraq as a whole, make contributions to stability in the country and develop economic relations.
For that, a few key steps are being planned:Strategic Cooperation Commission: For better ties between Turkey and Iraq, a Strategic Cooperation Commission will be formed. Foreign, economy and energy ministers under the prime ministers' auspice in the commission will direct all bilateral relations.Operations by the Turkish Armed Forces along the northern Iraq border are on top of political affairs.
The Iraqi administrators, in one-on-one conversations, are not complaining about the strikes against the PKK but clearly voice out disturbance in general meetings.Another discussion topic is the Kirkuk referendum. The Turkish delegation is expected to lay out the drawbacks of a popular vote.A Commerce Center in Basra: Turkey wants to increase energy cooperation. In the field, Turks seek investments in modernization of the Iraqi infrastructure and permission for oil search in the new areas.Not only to boost energy deals but also to increase trade generally, a center will be established in Basra. An array of projects are being devised to have a neighborhood share and not to leave the Iraqi foreign economic relations to the United States only.Contacts with all groups:
Another aspect of this new approach by Turkey is that all sects in Iraq are being involved in contacts.
Situation is not the same in Iraq anymore. At first, there was a fierce Sunni-Shiite conflict in the country.
Sunnis did not participate in the elections to protest the Shiite government. Kurds exploiting the political gap gained more control in the Baghdad administration and attained deputy prime ministry, foreign ministry and the presidency. Sunni groups in the end realized that the boycott didn't help at all and announced intentions to participate in the next elections in September. Therefore, Sunnis will have more governmental seats in the future.The Turkish delegation in this expedition to Baghdad will not only have contacts with the official government but with all Sunni and Shiite groups as well.
And the most striking point here is that Turkey is the one having good relations both with Sunni and Shiite as its advices are being followed by both parties. That's why this trip is critical.
Erdoğan should stop in Arbil, too:
Will it not be the right step in terms of reinforcing the front against the PKK if Erdoğan, on his way back home, stops by in Arbil even for a few hours and shakes hands with Barzani? Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney went to Arbil, why does Erdoğan not go? Therefore, this new period will be riveted and the administration gains more strength in the fight against the PKK. I am certain that such a short trip will add plenty to the relations between Turkey and the regional administration in northern Iraq.
But Ankara believes the prime minister is not ready yet for this visit; the time is not mature yet, they say. Officials in the steering-wheel of the Turkish-Iraqi affairs say, We started a new period with Barzani. They openly addressed unwillingness to lean on Iran. So we adopted a flexible attitude. But still, there are more steps to be taken mutually.
The Barzani administration has already restrained the PKK's mobility, to a degree, by setting up checkpoints at airports, border gates and regions, primarily the Kandil, where terrorist camps reside. On top, two top PKK officials recently coming from Europe were not allowed in and sent back directly.Before taking new steps, Ankara expects the Barzani administration to tighten up controls and confine the PKK at least only in the Kandil Mountain. I asked the same question to one of Barzani's officials. “Our armed fight with the PKK is not the question,” he said and made the following statement:
“... As long as our villages and people are not harmed, we overlooked military bombardments. However, tightening up road checks is up to our dialogue with Ankara.”
Barzani, too, wants to do some more. He wishes to have better relations with Ankara but seeks reciprocity principle in this.
Turkey took a right step in the direction to iron out affairs with the northern Iraq administration. But this shouldn't be it. More contacts should be made and dialogues should be increased. In this angle, I don't see any harm in Erdoğan's quick visit to Arbil during his official trip to Iraq. On the contrary, this might be a right step to corner the PKK.