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Kurdish separatists and water issues feature prominently during Erdogan's long-awaited visit to Iraq

Kurdish separatists and water issues feature prominently during Erdogan's long-awaited visit to Iraq

 


BAGHDAD (AP) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday, as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group based in northern Iraq. Iraq.

Other issues also loom large between the two countries, including water supply problems and oil and gas exports from northern Iraq to Turkey, which have been disrupted for more than a year.

Erdogan's last visit to Iraq was in 2011, when he was Turkish prime minister.

Iraqi government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi said in a statement that Erdogan's visit would be a major starting point in Iraqi-Turkish relations and would include the signing of an agreement on a common approach to the security challenges and a strategic agreement on the water issue, among others. other exits.

Erdogan said his country plans to launch a major operation against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement banned in Turkey and present in Iraq, over the summer, with the aim of permanently eradicating the threat it represents.

Turkey has carried out numerous ground offensives against the group in northern Iraq in the past, while Turkish aircraft frequently target suspected PKK targets in the region.

Ankara now aims to create a 30-40 kilometer deep security corridor along the shared border with Iraq, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler told reporters last month.

The group, whose fight for an autonomous Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey has cost tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Baghdad has complained in the past that Turkish operations against the PKK violated its sovereignty, but appears to be moving closer to Ankara's position.

In March, after a meeting between the Iraqi and Turkish foreign ministers, Baghdad announced that the Iraqi National Security Council had banned the PKK, although it did not designate it as a terrorist organization.

The two countries issued a joint statement in which they said the group posed a threat to the security of Turkey and Iraq and that its presence on Iraqi territory constituted a violation of the Iraqi Constitution.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told reporters during a visit to Washington last week that Iraq and Turkey have genuine interests in each other and common projects. He stressed that the PKK has long been present in northern Iraq, but we do not allow any armed group to be on Iraqi territory and use it as a launching pad for attacks.

Ankara has argued that the presence of PKK bases poses a threat to the planned construction of a major trade route, the Iraq Development Road, which would connect the port of Grand Faw in Basra in southern Iraq to Turkey and Europe via a rail network. lines and highways.

Baghdad could take a similar approach toward the PKK as it has toward Iranian Kurdish dissident groups based in northern Iraq.

The presence of Iranian dissidents had become a point of tension with Tehran, which periodically launched airstrikes on its bases in Iraq. Last summer, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to disarm dissident groups and transfer their members from military bases to camps for displaced people.

Discussions between Erdogan and Iraqi officials are also expected to focus on energy cooperation as well as the possible resumption of the flow of oil via a pipeline to Turkey.

A pipeline linking the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to Turkey has been closed since March 2023, after an arbitration court ruling ordered Ankara to pay Iraq $1.5 billion for oil exports that bypassed the Iraqi central government. The sharing of oil and gas revenues has long been a contentious issue between Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities in Erbil.

Water rights will also likely be a key issue on the table.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide most of Iraq's fresh water, originate in Turkey. In recent years, Iraqi officials have complained that dams installed by Turkey were reducing Iraq's water supply. Experts fear that climate change will exacerbate existing water shortages in Iraq, with potentially devastating consequences.

Mustafa Hassan, a Baghdad resident, said he hoped Erdogan's visit would help resolve water issues, as Iraq is suffering from a water shortage crisis, which is affecting the 'agriculture.

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Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Ali Jabar in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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