In Sign Of Thaw, Turkey Says Respects Iraq’s Sovereignty

Photo: Reuters

Turkey and Iraq cooled down a long-running spat between the two countries during a visit by the Turkish prime minister to Iraq, seeking for a detente in relations strained by Turkish military presence in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that an accord has been reached to ensure withdrawal of Turkish forces from Bashiqa camp near Mosul. But a joint communique, after the meeting between the prime minister does not refer to a deal over the issue that kept bilateral relations on edge.

The communique highlights Turkey’s expression of strong respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and acceptance of Bashiqa as an Iraqi camp. Yildirim arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for talks with Iraqi officials to give a boost to strained ties.

Iraqi state television said Turkey pledged to respect Iraqi sovereignty, and both countries promised non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.

Turkey’s deployment of at least 500 troops to train local fighters at Bashiqa camp touched off a diplomatic row that almost jeopardized a multi-sided military operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Defiant tone of Turkish authorities toward calls from Baghdad to pull out the forces generated public resentment and aroused nationalist fervor among Iraqis who held protests in front of the Turkish Embassy last year.

Iraqi Parliament regarded the presence of Turkish military trainers and soldiers as an invading force on its territory, and blatant violation of its sovereignty. The U.S. efforts to mediate the dispute between Turkey and Iraq did not yield much result as Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter’s visit to both capitals ended in utter failure in late October.

Turkey’s insistence to take part in the Mosul operation added an additional source of friction, made a rapprochement extremely difficult at that time. But both Baghdad and U.S.-led coalition forces against ISIS expressed reluctance, even fierce objection in the former case, to see a Turkish role in the operation that led by Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraqi troops. Turkey later scrapped its plans for participating in the Mosul campaign, and conceded to remain on the sidelines.

“We see that significant progress is being made in cleansing Daesh from the region. In line with this, we will solve this (Bashiqa) subject somehow in a friendly way,” Reuters quoted the Turkish prime minister as saying. Yildirim also attended inauguration ceremony of newly rebuilt Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on the same day. He then later flew to Arbil, the capital of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Turkey’s developed relations with the KRG also constitutes another point of contention with Baghdad as Ankara ignores Iraqi protest for its unilaterally-cut deals with Arbil, bypassing the central government in Baghdad. Part of the problem springs from squabble over Kurdish insistence to sell its oil to world markets via Turkey without getting approval from Baghdad.

The quarrel, which neared to a boiling point in recent years, now seems to subside as KRG appears to be unable to find customers except Israel. Countries are reluctant to bypass Iraqi government on the oil trade.

Nechirvan Barzani welcomed Yildirim upon his arrival in Arbil. Both leaders discussed cooperation against terrorism and how to boost bilateral economic relations which blossomed during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.