Fatih Yıldız, Turkey's ambassador to Baghdad, underlined that the fight against terrorism has been a top priority in Turkish-Iraqi relations while stressing that despite some small steps, comprehensive cooperation is still expected from Iraq.
Speaking to Daily Sabah in an exclusive interview on Thursday, Yıldız said ensuring security within the country and fight against terrorism has been of great importance for Iraq, which celebrated the first anniversary of the victory over Daesh on Monday.
"We have been stressing that the PKK terrorist group is no different than Daesh. With a similar stance against the PKK, we have been urging authorities to take measures against this terror group," he highlighted.
In relation to the recent closing of some PKK-linked party offices of the Tavgari Azadi in Sulaymaniyah, the ambassador said some offices in the city have been closed; yet, Turkey expects a more comprehensive framework in the fight against terrorism from Iraq.
Previously, some offices of the Tagvari Azadi were closed in Sulaymaniyah province in late November. The offices were closed on the grounds that they do not carry a license; however, Turkey expects the link between the offices and the PKK to be declared as well.
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 underlined previously that if the expected steps are not taken, it will not shy away from targeting the terror threats, particularly in Iraq's Sinjar in the northern Nineveh province where the PKK has a strong presence.
In the latest move, Turkey targeted PKK tunnels and warehouses in Sinjar late Thursday ahead of the operation against the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in Syria, a move that sends the message that Turkey is resolute in eradicating the terror threats along its border.
Turkey's role in rebuilding Iraq in the post-Daesh period
Turkey is to provide the largest amount of loan to Iraq for its reconstruction after a three-year war with Daesh. In relation to the issue, the ambassador said Turkey aims to support projects that both meet the essential needs of the Iraqis and contribute to bilateral ties with Turkey.
In February, various countries from around the world 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. Accordingly, Turkey will help redevelop the cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, Baghdad, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) to help Iraqis return to their homes.
Yıldız underlined that, "Turkey sent a delegation to Iraq last spring and the sides discussed the possible projects of first priority including water management, infrastructure and airports, which will also add value to the bilateral ties between the countries."
However, the ambassador pointed to the slow process of forming a government in Iraq following the previous elections and added that Turkey expects to start the primary projects as soon as possible.
Commenting on the possible opening of a new border gate with Iraq, Yıldız said in September, there was a meeting between the delegations; however, the sides have not been able to find common ground.
Yıldız stressed that it is important who is present on the other side of the border, adding that currently the peshmerga have been controlling those areas. He underscored that, "If Irbil and Baghdad reach an understanding, we would have an environment where we could work easily."
If the new border gate project comes to fruition, a 570-kilometer highway will be also built that will directly link Turkey to Baghdad. Yıldız highlighted that Turkey wants to build the highway along with the new border gate.
Touching on Turkey's opening of consulates in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Mosul, Yıldız also said the consulates in these cities will open in a month or so.
The Mosul consulate was closed by Turkey in 2014 after Daesh overran the city. The Basra consulate was also closed for security reasons.
Efforts for restoration of Qaysari Bazaar
"The Ottoman-era Qaysari Bazaar in Kirkuk was destroyed by a recent fire. With immediate instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we have started our efforts for the restoration of the bazaar with TİKA," the ambassador said. "The bazaar was different from the other Ottoman-era landmarks since the Qaysari Bazaar was alive and had been used by the people; it was part of the daily lives of the people."
He underscored that, "The bazaar was uniting different segments and representing the population of Kirkuk with the Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish shop owners working there. They represent the culture of living together."
Considering the situation of the shop owners, Yıldız said they will exert efforts to accelerate the restoration process, however, he also stressed that they will be meticulous to respect the historical aspect of the building during the restoration and reflect its past as well.
Home to approximately 360 shops, the Qaysari Bazaar was built in the Ottoman era and is located in the center of the Turkmen-majority city of Kirkuk.