Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's two-day visit to Baghdad and Irbil was very busy. This visit was crucial in light of both the suspension of ties with Baghdad for the past few years and the potential harm Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacks could cause to ties with Irbil. Davutoğlu, by meeting with civil society leaders in addition to state and government officials, ushered in a new era in relations with the region. On his return flight to Istanbul, the prime minister underlined the importance of Turkey-Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ties and talked about the historic depth of the relations despite repeated manipulation. Below there are Davutoğlu's answers to questions asked about the visit and other issues.
Was ISIS the focus of talks with KRG President Masoud Barzani?
A part of the Irbil visit involved meeting with Prime Minister [Nechirvan] Barzani. We talked about economic ties. In a one-on-one meeting with President Masoud Barzani, we analyzed security issues, ISIS, the PKK and regional developments. In terms of security, there is no one more involved than Turkey. I also told him how important Northern Iraq is for us. Mosul, Kirkuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah are very important for Turkey's national security. Everything that happens there affects Turkey. What we did there in terms of humanitarian assistance is a success story. Some are trying to portray Turkey as if it has done nothing to aid the plight of Turkmens and Yazidis. We visited a camp during the visit and witnessed the fact that it was very clean and people were happy. Then we visited another camp. Turkmens and Yazidis welcomed us and recited poems.
This must have been the first visit of its kind
This is where Turkey's power comes to the fore. Turkey is no longer a power with a single dimension. It has political and diplomatic clout. It has moral weight due to its humanitarian programs. It has economic weight. Sometimes the alternative dimensions of this power arise. When there is a problem, our humanitarian power is seen. If there is a political crisis in Iraq, our political clout is noticed. We talked with all political actors and overcame a crisis with the Sunnis on the issue of the selection of the president. We were the ones that resolved that impasse. All the streets of Irbil were dotted with Turkish flags. When I mentioned this to Nechirvan Barzani, he said, "Who occupied this city, sir?" This is not an occupation but reintegration, I told him.
If we had not followed a constructive policy in Northern Iraq, Turkey would not be talking to Barzani or even mentioning his name. This is one of the reasons why I've remained in politics. I was close to retiring in 2007. After Bağlıca, I reconsidered. As we were conducting a military operation on Feb. 28, 2008, I came here on a special mission. I secretly met with Nechirvan Barzani behind the office of [Deputy Prime Minister] Qubad Talabani. We brought Talabani to Turkey. We have taken significant strides since then. Do we have any military presence in the region?
We have the Bagram base. As the operation in 2008 was continuing, I was given a note. I was in Damascus then. It said, "Turkish soldiers and peshmerga have drawn weapons against each other." The National Security Council (MGK) was meeting and I sent a note to the MGK from Damascus to both the president and the prime minister. This is the progress we have achieved since then.
Some claim that we refused to help the KRG when ISIS attacked. What can you say about that?
Nechirvan Barzani called the night ISIS attacked and asked for support. We sent aid the same night. However, we didn't say anything about it. We were obviously trying to free our consulate staff. We told them, "We will send help but you won't publicize it."
What will you say about the Alevi issue on your Tunceli visit?
During the party congress and election, I said I would visit all provinces. Some provincial visits were brought forward and the Tunceli visit was one of those. I will remark on a certain topic.
Does the visit have political significance?
It does. There will be other visits with political significance. We need to create a sound concept of citizenship for all groups who feel they are disenfranchised by society. I will talk about that and I will also have a gift for Tunceli.
Elections are nearing. Will you consider appearing with opposition leaders on a TV program?
No. I used to have such an inclination in the past. I waited for them to call me at the beginning of the legislative year. They should have done so out of politeness. Republican People's Party [CHP] leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu did not call and congratulate me. After their party congress, I called and congratulated him. Actually, I would meet anyone. When the People's Democracy Party [HDP] took an aggressive stance during the Oct. 6-7 protests, tension increased. Otherwise, I would have talked to anyone. I would never turn my back on anyone. However, politics should be conducted in a civil atmosphere.