The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) transferred the control of Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing, the main crossing between Turkey and Iraq, to the central government in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Turkey's official Anadolu Agency reported that Turkish and Iraqi military units, which have been conducting joint drills since Sept. 18, have left their barracks and moved towards the Iraqi side of the border. Doğan News Agency later reported that that the border gate will be handed over to Baghdad in a ceremony with the attendance of Iraqi Chief of Staff Othman al-Ghanmi and Lt. Gen. İsmail Temel, the commander of Turkey's Second Army which is in charge of guarding the country's southern and eastern borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Turkish 2nd Army Commander Lt. Gen. Ismail Metin Temel (3-L) walks with Iraqi Chief of Staff Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi (C) in Habur Border Gate. (EPA Photo)
Speaking at the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) weekly parliamentary group meeting, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that border gate was handed over to the Iraqi central government as of Tuesday morning no problem was faced during the handover of the border gate. From now on, there will not be any illegal taxes or arbitrary checking on the other side of the border, Yıldırım said.
"We called the referendum null and void and stressed that all the airports and border gates should be under the control of the Iraqi central government," he said, reiterating Ankara's firm stance against the referendum since the decision was first announced.
He noted that this measure was discussed during his Iraqi counterpart Haidar al-Abadi's visit to Turkey.
Yıldırım said that this development would provide opportunities to enhance the economic ties with Iraq and that Turkish "vehicles passing the border will continue their way from Baghdad to Basra."
Yıldırım added that Turkey and Iraq also agreed to open up a new border crossing and a subsequent route that would pass from the pre-dominantly Turkmen town of Tal Afar located west of Mosul.
The Ibrahim Khalil border gate, which is located across the border from southeastern Turkey's Habur Customs Gate in Silopi district of Şırnak province, is of crucial importance for the bilateral trade between the two countries, including oil imports with tankers. The Kirkuk - Ceyhan oil pipeline connecting northern Iraqi oil fields with Turkish oil terminal in the Mediterranean also passes west of the border crossing before entering Turkey.
Following the controversial independence referendum in the KRG and disputed regions with Baghdad on Sept. 25, Iraqi forces and allied predominantly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) moved on Oct. 16 to force the KRG out of the disputed areas, which include oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the town of Khanaqin near the border with Iran and Sinjar near the border with Syria.
Baghdad also demanded Irbil to hand the control of all airports and customs gates, including Ibrahim Khalil, which had been under KRG control since 1991.
The move reportedly came after Iraqi and KRG officials met in Mosul to resolve the dispute with the U.S. mediating the talks.
Three Iraqi officials also confirmed to Reuters that the border gate has been brought under Iraqi control. One of the officials showed Reuters pictures of the Iraqi flag being raised at the border gate, where Iraqi and Turkish soldiers were deployed and Turkish flags also hoisted.
"We have raised the Iraqi flag over the border crossing with Turkey today and it is officially under the full control of the Iraqi government," said one of the officials, border police captain Ali Abdul Ilah.
However, Kurdish regional authorities denied the crossing had been handed over. "Negotiations are still ongoing," said a KRG official in the regional capital Irbil.
Amid heavy pressure from the international community on Iraq's neighbors, the KRG retreated from contested areas without significant resistance. However, Iraqi forces and KRG peshmerga units have been involved in clashes in the strategic area located northwest of Mosul, upstream of the Mosul Dam Lake on the Tigris River, which had been providing the KRG with connection to Syria and control over Iraq's connection to Turkey.
With the Turkish and Iraqi move, the supply line between the KRG and northeastern Syria, which is under control of PKK terror group's Syrian wing Democratic Union Party (PYD) will also be cut.
PM Yıldırım, MHP leader say Barzani got what was coming to him
Yıldırım also said Tuesday that KRG President Masoud Barzani's resignation was expected after the KRG's controversial independence referendum, citing previous warnings from Ankara.
"We said before that the individuals who held the referendum should pay the price and we said they can't continue to govern there. Now they had to step down," Yıldırım said.
With the belief that the referendum would ignite violence in the country and possibly bear implications for the greater region, Ankara had repeatedly warned the KRG take a step back. Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad strongly opposed the decision, stressing the significance of Iraq's territorial integrity
Commenting on Barzani's resignation, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli said that Barzani is experiencing the consequences of his decision. Bahçeli slammed Barzani for saying that the KRG made all necessary preparations for Kirkuk.
The MHP chairman said that Barzani's resignation will not be sufficient to ensure stability in the region. "Iraq's territorial and political integrity should be preserved and supported," he said.
He further stressed that Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's visit to Ankara constitutes an important aspect of efforts to protect peace in the region. He said that after cleansing the region of the PKK and decreasing the KRG peshmerga's clout in the region, the rights of Turkmens should be on the table.
"Turkmens should have a special status provided by Iraq's historical background, cultural values, peace and brotherhood," Bahçeli said, adding that he expects that cooperation between Turkey and Iraq will benefit Turkmens.
'US welcome's Barzani's resignation'
On Monday, the U.S. commended Barzani's decision to resign, urging the Baghdad and the KRG to solve their differences peacefully.
"We call on all Kurdish parties to support the KRG as it works to resolve pending issues over the remainder of its term and prepare for elections in 2018," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. She urged Iraq and the KRG "to work urgently to resolve pending issues under the Iraqi constitution."
Speaking on the latest developments, Saadi Ahmet Pira, spokesman of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said that conflict with the Iraqi military was the result of a "miscalculation of the referendum results."
"We ignored the reaction of countries in the region, particularly Turkey and Iran. They gave support to the Iraqi government against the peshmerga on the issue of contested areas. This support frightens us, especially for the future," Pira said.