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Turkey’s FM tackles long-held disputes with Iraq in first official visit

Hakan Fidan chose Iraq for his first official visit as Turkey's new foreign minister, but the visit appeared to yield little progress on long-standing disputes between Ankara and Baghdad.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (R) poses with Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in Baghdad on Aug. 22, 2023.

ANKARA — During his first official visit to Iraq as Turkey’s new foreign minister, Hakan Fidan on Wednesday called on Baghdad to list the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.

Speaking alongside his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, at a joint press conference in Baghdad, Fidan said his country expected Baghdad to list the PKK as a terrorist organization. “Ignoring borders between Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organization seeks to unite the two regions through a terror corridor it set up,” he told journalists in reference to Syrian Kurdish groups.

The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 for self-rule inside Turkey and is headquartered in mountainous northern Iraq. 

“The PKK is a terrorist organization that has been occupying Sinjar, Mahkmur, Qandil and many other Iraqi regions,” Fidan said. 

Turkey’s ongoing military operations in the region against the Kurdish militants have long been a source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad, which has accused Turkey of violating Iraqi sovereignty and killing civilians. 

Voicing Baghdad’s long-standing grievances over ongoing Turkish military operations, Hussein stressed the importance of his country’s sovereignty. 

Yet, dismissing accusations, Fidan reiterated his country’s position over the dispute, saying it was the PKK that was threatening Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

“We cannot remain indifferent to the PKK's challenge to Iraqi sovereignty,” Fidan said. Safeguarding Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity remains among Turkey's top foreign policy priorities, he added.

Hussein, in turn, pressed for a settlement to the water-sharing dispute on transboundary rivers shared by Turkey and Iraq. Iraqi authorities have long accused Turkey of cutting off Iraq’s water share from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers through Turkish dams built on the waterways. 

Turkey, for its part, maintains that Iraqi authorities need to advance their irrigation technology for more effective usage of water. Speaking on Wednesday, Fidan reiterated his country’s position, stressing the need to set up a “scientific and rational” mechanism to solve the problem.

No breakthrough in northern Iraqi oil exports

Both the Turkish and Iraqi chief diplomats pledged to boost cooperation to strengthen economic and trade ties between the two countries, yet Fidan’s first official visit to Iraq still failed to create the breakthrough necessary for the resumption of northern Iraqi oil exports to Turkey. 

Ankara suspended oil flow from northern Iraq in March after the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) ruled that a unilateral deal between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for the oil exports violated the central Iraqi government’s sovereign rights.

Citing sources familiar with the negotiations between Ankara, Erbil and Baghdad for the resumption of oil flow, Al-Monitor reported earlier this week that Iraq was pressing Turkey to increase the water flow from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in return for its green light to restart oil exports. 

Both countries have been battling with severe drought as temperatures in the region soar to record-high levels.

Fidan, who also met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and various other political leaders in Baghdad, is expected to discuss the export issue with KRG officials in Erbil on Thursday.

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