Turkey, Iraq to step up trade, security cooperation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, have agreed to develop their security ties and increase their targeted trade volume above the current goal of $20 billion, the leaders said at a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday.

Erdoğan received the Iraqi prime minister in the Turkish capital, where the pair discussed trade, security, water and other issues.

After the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq, Erdoğan reaffirmed his country’s vow to help repair with reconstruction after the recent conflict and to create a trade corridor running from Turkey to southern Iraq.

The resumption of supply from the 600-mile pipeline carrying oil from Iraq’s Kirkuk to Ceyhun in Turkey is a priority, Erdoğan said, adding that there was huge potential for energy cooperation between the two countries.

Islamic State fighters destroyed part of the pipeline in attacks in 2014, and it has been inoperative since.

Abdul Mahdi expressed his gratitude for Turkey’s aid in the fight against the extremist jihadist group, and underlined the importance of continued cooperation against outlawed groups even though the Islamic State had been largely defeated in Iraq.

Erdoğan, too, spoke of Turkey’s ongoing struggle with outlawed groups, including the Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government blames for a coup attempt in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought Turkish security forces for Kurdish self-rule for decades.

Without referring to the PKK by name, Abdul Mahdi said Iraq would “never accept” security threats to Turkey posed from Iraqi soil. The PKK is known to have headquarters in Qandil, a mountainous region in the northeast of Iraq, and Turkey has launched frequent military operations in the area in recent years.

The Turkish and Iraqi leaders have agreed on the need for a new security agreement, Erdoğan said, adding that he would consult Turkey’s foreign minister, defence minister and intelligence chief on the subject.

Turkey will also reopen its diplomatic missions in Iraq, some of which were forced to close down due to the conflict with the Islamic State, Erdoğan said.

This could help realise the Turkish president’s aim to “strengthen relations with Iraq in all areas” ahead of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting planned for the next Turkish visit to Iraq, which is scheduled to take place by the end of the year.

Erdoğan also stressed his desire to step up joint action over water, a subject that has led to disagreements for the two countries, which share important water sources including the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

Iraq is downstream of Turkey on the course of both rivers, meaning that Turkish projects like the new hydroelectric dam in the southeast province of Şırnak impact Iraqi agriculture.

A 50-person working group led by Erdoğan’s adviser, Veysel Eroğlu, has been formed to share water management and irrigation knowledge with Iraq, the Turkish president said.