Iraq and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to boost bilateral relations and co-operation in all fields during the first day of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani's visit to Ankara.
Mr Al Sudani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a positive tone during a press briefing, saying they are focusing on security, trade and the economy as well as on alleviating water scarcity in Iraq.
“We had constructive and fruitful discussions as well as serious and responsible talks,” Mr Al Sudani said. “We focused on enhancing relations between the two countries in all fields, especially in the economy.”
Both leaders discussed plans for a massive infrastructure project known as the Dry Canal or Development Road that will run from southern Iraq to the border with Turkey.
The project involves the construction of 1,200 kilometres of rail networks and new motorways that expand outward from Al Faw Port on the Arabian Gulf in Basra province, which is currently under construction. The network will then be connected to rail and road networks in Europe through Turkey.
“We discussed bilateral relations and we stressed on our determination to work together in order to accomplish the Development Road project by constructing railway lines and motorway from Basra to the Turkish borders,” Mr Erdogan said.
“This will boost the regional co-operation and improve our trade and at the same time boost our humanitarian relations in this region.”
Iraq is keen to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative — a global development strategy involving infrastructure development and investments in almost 70 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe — through the $7 billion port project
For years, Turkey has maintained military bases in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region and launched military operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the US and the EU.
Along with PKK, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, or KDPI, is also based in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
The two groups have been the targets of almost daily cross-border attacks by both Turkey and Iran.
Tehran and Ankara accuse the groups of attempting to destabilise their security and fuel unrest by carrying out armed attacks from Iraqi territory.
Pressured by Iran and Turkey, Iraq sent military units late last year to its borders with the two countries in an effort to stop attacks by dissident Kurds.
Mr Al Sudani said Iraq “is committed not allowing its territory to be used as a launching pad for aggressions against Turkey, and that the security of the region is one indivisible security”.
“We will definitely reach a solution to these security problems through intelligence sharing and co-operation away from using force in a way to protect Iraq's security and sovereignty,” he added.
For his part, the Turkish President said: “We expect that our Iraqi brothers to recognise PKK a terrorist group and purge Iraqi territory of these bloody terrorist organisations.”
Iraq has suffered severe environmental degradation and water scarcity as a result of climate change, alarming levels of pollution and mismanagement.
The country is experiencing its worst drought in decades, with temperatures above 50°C last summer. Many of Iraq’s lakes have shrunk.
The country is ranked the fifth most vulnerable in the world to climate change, the UN Environment Programme reported.
A network of Turkish dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers built over the past 50 years have made water scarcity problems worse. Iran has also built dams on tributaries feeding the Tigris.
The rivers, which account for more than 90 per cent of Iraq's freshwater, currently receive less than 30 per cent of their normal flow from Turkey and Iran, Deputy Environment Minister Jassim Al Falahi said last week.
Mr Erdogan said: “We realise the water scarcity in Iraq, but the precipitation in Turkey is at its lowest level in 62 years. We are going through a drought that is further deepening due to climate change”.
Despite that, he continued, Turkey decided to increase water flow to Tigris for a month “as much as possible to alleviate Iraq's problem”.
As to the economy, Mr Erdogan said the volume of trade between Iraq and Turkey “broke the record”, exceeding $24 billion last year. He called for the removal of “non-tariff barriers and trade restrictions” to further increase commerce.
Mr Al Sudani will hold meetings on Wednesday with Turkish officials and companies.