Turkish Foreign Minister visits Iraq to discuss energy and security issues

Hakan Fidan will meet officials in Baghdad and the Kurdistan region during a three-day visit to the country

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan will visit Baghdad and Erbil during his visit to Iraq this week. Reuters
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Energy exports and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in Iraq will be at the top of the agenda when Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visits the country on Tuesday, experts and officials have told The National.

Mr Fidan is set to begin talks with top-ranking officials in Baghdad on Wednesday, when he meets his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf said.

“The visit comes in the context of strengthening bilateral relations between Baghdad and Ankara and discussing the most important files and outstanding issues,” Dr Al Sahaf told The National.

The Turkish minister will then travel to Erbil on Thursday, where he will meet President of Iraqi Kurdistan Nechervan Barzani and regional prime minister Masrour Barzani.

“The two sides will assess the dynamics in a region with a rapidly changing political atmosphere. Trade, security and economic issues, such as the PKK and the border between the Kurdistan region and Turkey, will be at the top of the agenda,” a Kurdish official from Mr Barzani's office told The National.

“The two are neighbours that need to have strong and reliable relations to ensure stability in the region,” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, told The National.

“This has proven somewhat difficult to achieve after the negative consequences of the US intervention, which has led to political instability in Iraq,” Mr Ulgen added.

What does Turkey want from Iraq?

Mr Fidan's visit is very likely to be aimed at resolving outstanding issues between the two countries, Galip Dalay, a Chatham House expert on Turkey, told The National.

“The sides will be in a mood to resolving their differences, rather than continuing with their disputes,” he said, adding that the aim is now to “find a solution to the disputes over the energy exports through oil”.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, initially seeking an independent Kurdish state before changing its demands and seeking an autonomous Kurdish region within Turkey. The conflict has killed about 40,000 people, many of them civilians.

The group has training camps and bases in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and is designated a terrorist group by the US and EU.

“In recent times the PKK has increased its presence in northern Iraq, creating more disturbances for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the main dominant party in Iraqi Kurdistan, and in return Turkey is putting more pressure on the PKK,” Mr Galip said.

Ankara wants a stronger commitment from Baghdad to curtail the activities and influence of the PKK in the northern part of Iraq, Mr Ulgen said.

The presence of PKK fighters in the region has created complex issues for the Kurdistan regional government, as its operations impact trade relations with Ankara.

Dispute over oil

In March, Turkey halted Iraq's 450,000 barrel per day oil exports via the northern Iraq-Turkey pipeline after an arbitration ruling by the International Chamber of Commerce.

Iraq filed for arbitration with the ICC in 2014 over Turkey's role in facilitating oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan without the consent of the federal government in Baghdad.

Iraq's government says its state-owned marketed SOMO is the only party authorised to manage crude exports through Ceyhan oil terminal.

For months, oil firms in the region have been left in limbo as the pipeline stoppage is set to continue until Ankara, Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government resolve the dispute.

Ankara aims to reach a settlement with Baghdad on the transport of oil from Kurdistan where there is still an arbitration procedure, Mr Ulgen said.

Ankara also wants to “see a lasting agreement between the Kurdistan regional government and the government in Baghdad on revenue-sharing for hydrocarbon resources so that Turkey can reliably plan its future supply from Kurdistan,” he added.

Development Road project

During talks, Mr Fidan will also focus on an ambitious transport project aimed to connect Asia to Europe and enhance regional co-operation and economic opportunities.

The project, known as the Development Road, is expected to run from southern Iraq to the Turkish border.

The project involves the construction of 1,200 kilometres of rail networks and new motorways that expand outward from the under-construction Al Faw Port on the Arabian Gulf in Basra province.

The network will then be connected to road and rail networks in Europe through Turkey.

The project is expected to cost up to $17 billion, generate $4 billion annually and create at least 100,000 jobs for all states involved.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 12:52 PM