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Will Turkish protection minister’s Iraq go to yield concrete outcomes?

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Jan 25, 2021

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s current go to to Iraq has seen loads of verbal agreements on an array of points Ankara shares with the central Iraqi authorities and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Yet whether or not these agreements would translate into concrete steps stays to be seen. 

Following Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s go to to Turkey Dec. 17, 2020, Akar paid a high-profile go to to Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan on Jan 18-20. He was accompanied by a big Turkish delegation together with Chief of Staff of the Turkish armed forces Yasar Guler. In Baghdad, the delegation headed by Akar met with the Iraqi minister of protection and minister of inside together with President Barham Salih and Kadhimi. In Erbil, Akar held separate conferences with KRG President Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and former President Massoud Barzani, who can be chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the dominant political power in Iraqi Kurdistan. The delegation additionally paid a go to to the workplace of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Erbil. 

Eight conferences and the high-profile welcome point out the significance the Iraqi facet hooked up to the go to contemplating the chilly shoulder the Iraqi authorities gave to the Turkish protection minister solely months in the past. Akar’s earlier deliberate go to to Iraq in August final yr was canceled after a Turkish drone strike killed two Iraqi border guards within the Sidekhan space in the identical month, as a part of ongoing Turkish navy operations towards the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members primarily based in northern Iraq. Turkey and far of the Western powers together with the United States take into account the PKK a terrorist group. 

The first signal of breaking the ice got here with Kadhimi’s Ankara go to final month that took a minimum of 4 invites by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Akar’s follow-up go to has additional boosted the expectations that the 2 international locations have been able to settle their variations.

During Kadhimi’s go to, the perimeters mentioned a big array of bilateral points, together with strengthening the safety cooperation towards the PKK, eradicating PKK militants from Sinjar and Makhmour, opening of a second border crossing between the 2 international locations, reconstructing a most important freeway linking Mosul to this crossing in an try to arrange a buffer zone between the PKK-based areas of Iraq and Syria’s area below the management of the Kurdish teams, reopening of an oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, organising joint modernization tasks to unravel the power water-sharing drawback between the 2 neighbors and creating reconstruction tasks that have been deliberate to be financed by way of a $5 billion Turkish pledge for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Coming solely days earlier than US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Akar’s go to primarily targeted on safety points. The go to was aimed toward constructing on the momentum generated by Kadhimi’s go to to curb Iraqi objections towards the Turkish navy operations towards the PKK, and forcing Baghdad and Erbil to maximise their cooperation on this entrance earlier than the brand new US administration steps into the calculation. Debilitated by the Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara triangle, the Iraqi Kurds hope to seek out room to breathe below the brand new US administration insurance policies. Likewise, the Syrian Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces additionally hope the US approach would rein in the Turkish aggression in Syria. 

Will the high-profile conferences that Akar held in Baghdad and Erbil imply concrete steps in favor of Turkey?

According to Akar, either side are almost on the identical web page in a lot of the bilateral points, significantly on the safety entrance. “We have agreed on many issues,” Akar mentioned throughout a press convention on the Turkish Consulate in Erbil. “The mutual talks between the two delegations will continue. I believe that these will yield positive outcomes on the ground soon,” he famous. He careworn that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities’ willingness to cooperate with Turkey within the combat towards the PKK “was very significant” for Turkey.

In addition, he mentioned that either side mentioned the implementation of a safety deal between Erbil and Baghdad that Turkey hopes would result in the removing of the PKK militants from the Sinjar area. According to Akar, the PKK militants “will soon be removed from the region through measures to be taken in the near future.” 

“We have repeatedly expressed that our fight [against the PKK] will continue until the last terrorist is eliminated,” Akar added, thereby summarizing Turkey’s expectations from the go to. 

Yet, regardless of Turkey’s dedication to combat towards the PKK from the Qandil Mountains on the Iraqi-Iranian border to the western Syrian border, the verbal consensus between the Turkish and Iraqi authorities have to this point did not translate into concrete achievements on the bottom and are unlikely to provide any ends in the near future. This signifies that Turkey’s navy approach to hunt an answer to its deep-rooted and decadeslong Kurdish drawback by way of cross border operations in neighboring international locations will proceed to mar the joint tasks between the 2 international locations.

The PKK presence within the Sinjar area was the focus of Akar’s go to, based on sources in Baghdad and Erbil who’ve information about the go to. Accordingly, Turkey gauged Baghdad’s response to arrange new navy checkpoints to the west of Mosul with a purpose to power PKK members to go away Sinjar. Yet the sprawling variety of Turkish checkpoints, significantly the Turkish navy presence on the Bashiqa navy base near Mosul, is already some extent of rivalry between Ankara and Baghdad, with the Iraqi facet having protested twice towards Turkey’s refusal to withdraw its forces from Bashiqa. A prospect for a permission to new checkpoints appears extremely unlikely below such circumstances. 

The Sinjar deal between Baghdad and Erbil that requires the deployment of central authorities forces within the area has additionally failed to provide the specified outcomes Turkey has hoped for. Ankara considers the native Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) as a PKK affiliate and asks for its dissolution, whereas Baghdad desires to combine the YBS into the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) with a purpose to keep away from a attainable navy confrontation.

Moreover, pro-Iranian PMU factions that maintain sway in areas the place Turkey desires to arrange new navy checkpoints stand as one other impediment earlier than the Turkish demand. There are additionally political opposition blocs which might be towards Turkey’s additional involvement in Mosul and different Iraqi areas. The Turkish proposal for a second border crossing in Ninevah has been shelved partly as a result of objections by these blocs cautious of accelerating Turkish affect within the predominantly Sunni area. Turkey’s proposal goals at bypassing Iraqi Kurdistan to arrange direct commerce hyperlinks between Turkey and the central authorities additionally has potential to disrupt Erbil-Baghdad ties. While Turkey helps the Iraqi authorities to counterbalance the Iranian affect, Kadhimi doesn’t wish to threat the help of main political forces in Iraq forward of the overall election in October.

Baghdad’s reluctance, in the meantime, might lead Turkey to show to the KDP-controlled areas for the brand new checkpoints. Yet proximity of those areas to the Semalka-Fishkhabour crossing — the one hyperlink that connects the Kurdish-controlled northeast of Syria to overseas commerce routes by way of Iraqi Kurdistan — stands as a serious obstacle earlier than this plan. During Turkey’s 2012 navy operation towards the Kurdish teams in northeastern Syria, the United States prevented Turkey from having bases near the Semalka-Fishkhabour crossing, cautious that Turkish interventions may lower off the one lifeline the Syrian Kurds have. Erbil most likely wouldn’t favor the thought out of comparable considerations.

As for Turkey’s calls for on the Makhmour camp, an space home to a refugee camp that hosts greater than 12,000 Kurds who fled Turkey within the 1990s, the Iraqi Kurdish sources imagine that Baghdad might decide to disperse the camp by granting Iraqi citizenship to its residents.

Sources imagine that though the Barzani household is keen to spice up cooperation with Ankara, it doesn’t wish to be dragged into the battle between Turkey and the PKK.

The deadly clashes between PKK militants and peshmerga forces Dec. 13 in Gare has served as a bitter warning for the KDP towards a attainable intra-Kurdish combat. The area was alarmed by the specter of one other fratricide much like the intra-Kurdish bloodshed within the 1990s. The incident prompted requires restraint by intellectuals and politicians. Direct confrontations between the PKK and peshmerga forces below the KDP additionally threatens the ties between the KDP and its coalition companion Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — the KDP’s most important political rival that has been on higher phrases with the PKK. A attainable escalation might result in the division of the area between Sulaymaniyah and Erbil.

Moreover, each Baghdad and Erbil would most likely wish to see the extent of the change that the Biden administration will deliver on the bottom earlier than bowing all the way down to any Turkish demand.

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