Iraqi Prime Minister visits Turkey to discuss bilateral ties, fight against terror

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 15.05.2019 00:03

Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi is expected to visit Turkey today and meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss bilateral ties and the fight against terrorism in a bid to further strengthen the relations.

"Fights against terrorism, reconstruction works in Iraq, and steps to be taken to enhance cooperation between Iraq and Turkey especially in the areas of trade and energy will be among the agenda topics of the meetings," the written statement issued by the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey's Directorate of Communications said yesterday.

Relations between the two neighboring countries have gained new momentum with high-level visits. In late April, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Iraq and met with his counterpart Mohamed Ali Alhakim. In January, Iraqi President Barham Salih also visited Turkey and held talks with Erdoğan, agreeing on enhancing cooperation in all fields.

Reconstruction of the country after the three-year war with Daesh is among the top agenda items for the bilateral relations. The reconstruction would include war and terror-destroyed cities, ruined roads, buildings, damaged electricity production capacity and distribution networks and much more. Iraqi infrastructure has also been deteriorating due to insufficient investments and maintenance.

In February 2018, various countries pledged billions of dollars in loans and investments for the reconstruction of Iraq at the international donors' conference in Kuwait City. Turkey pledged $5 billion in loans and investments, making the country one of the top contributors for reconstruction in Iraq. Accordingly, Turkey will help redevelop the cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, Baghdad, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah through the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) to help Iraqis return to their homes. Infrastructure investments in Iraq mainly focus on water supply projects, wastewater treatment, electricity plants, hospitals, school construction, housing developments, highways, bridges and port construction.

Water management in Iraq is another issue that is expected to be extensively discussed in the meeting. Previously, both countries agreed to work together on water management to prevent a water crisis in the region. Turkey also decided to send a special representative, Veysel Eroğlu, to Iraq to share Turkey's experiences on the issue.

The equitable share of water in the Tigris has been a protracted issue between Turkey and Iraq, and Turkey has come to stress that it does not want water management to become a problem between the two neighbors. Therefore, Turkey stopped water retention in its major Ilısu Dam and released water for Iraqi citizens who suffered from drought last year since Iraq asked for a larger share of the river's flow amid shortages, particularly in the southern province of Basra.

The fight against the PKK terrorist organization, which has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women and children in its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, is expected to come to the forefront in the meetings as well. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) regularly conduct cross-border operations in northern Iraq, a region where PKK terrorists have hideouts and bases from which to carry out attacks in Turkey. In mid-2014, the PKK managed to establish a foothold in Sinjar on the pretext that it was protecting the local Yazidi community from Daesh. Since then, the PKK has reportedly established ground in Sinjar as a new base for its logistic and command-and-control activities. Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) previously said the PKK's presence in Sinjar is unacceptable and called for the militants to leave the area. Turkey has long been stressing that it will not tolerate terror threats posed against its national security and has called on Iraqi officials to take the necessary steps to eliminate the terrorist group. Ankara has also previously underlined that if the expected steps are not taken, it will not shy away from targeting terror threats, particularly in Sinjar.

Iraq and Turkey are also considering opening a border gate as an alternative to the Habur-Ibrahim Khalil border crossing point controlled by the KRG. The border gate is expected to stimulate trade between Ankara and Turkmens-majority areas of northern Iraq. On the other hand, to increase Turkey's representation in Iraq, Ankara is trying to reopen consulates in Basra and Mosul that were closed after the consulate in Mosul was taken over by Daesh on June 11, 2014, and the terrorists held 49 consulate personnel and their families captive, including Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Öztürk Yılmaz, who was then the consul general to Mosul. The hostages were safely returned to Turkey after 101 days of captivity.

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