Turkey’s Erdogan in Iraq to push for reset of ties, cooperation against PKK

By Thomson Reuters Apr 22, 2024 | 4:05 AM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan began a rare visit to Iraq on Monday aiming to reset ties between the Middle East neighbours by inking a raft of deals covering security cooperation against Kurdish PKK militants, energy and trade.

His long-awaited visit is the first by a Turkish leader since 2011 and follows years of rocky relations as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against PKK militants based in mainly Kurdish, mountainous northern Iraq.

Iraq has said such operations violate its sovereignty and have killed civilians, but Turkey says it must protect itself against the PKK, which it, the U.S. and others have designated as a terrorist group.

Turkey plans a new swoop on the militants this spring and has sought Iraqi military cooperation, in the form of a joint operations room, as well as recognition by Baghdad that the PKK poses a threat to Turkey.

Cooperation on big economic projects are also on the table.

Iraq last year launched a $17 billion Development Road project which seeks to turn the country into a transit hub, connecting Asia and Europe with a link between Iraq’s Grand Faw Port in the oil-rich south and Turkey in the north.

Baghdad is also seeking a deal to secure a larger share of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, both of which originate in Turkey and constitute the main source of freshwater in drought-stricken Iraq.

Iraqi and Turkish officials said more than 20 memorandums of understanding would be signed during Erdogan’s one-day visit.

Bilateral trade was worth $19.9 billion in 2023, down from $24.2 billion in 2022, according to official Turkish data. In the first three months of 2024, exports to Iraq rose by 24.5%, while imports have fallen by 46.2%.

“The visit comes after nearly a year of preparations by both sides tackling the longstanding issues that complicated the relationship in the past,” said Farhad Alaaldin, foreign affairs adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

Erdogan is set to meet Sudani and President Abdul Latif Rashid in Baghdad, then head to Erbil, the provincial capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, to meet with Iraqi Kurdish officials.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed since then.

The conflict was long fought mainly in rural areas of southeastern Turkey but is now more focused across the border in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey has, since 2019, conducted a series of cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the PKK dubbed “Claw”.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari in Beirut, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Can Sezer in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrucku in Ankara; Writing by Timour Azhari; editing by Mark Heinrich)