Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a historic visit to Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in northern Iraq, on Thursday and is the first Turkish foreign minister to do so in 75 years, a move that was sharply criticized by the Iraqi central government.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website that Davutoğlu's visit to Kirkuk was “not appropriate” and an “interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.” It warned that Turkey would “bear the consequences,” which would negatively affect relations between the two neighbors.
The statement added that the Iraqi government was not informed of nor did it approve of the Turkish foreign minister's trip. “All of that was done without the knowledge or approval of the Foreign Ministry and without going through official and diplomatic channels to organize this visit,” the statement said.
“It is not in the interest of Turkey or any other party to underestimate national sovereignty or violate the rules of international relations and not comply with the most basic regulations in relations between states and officials,” the Foreign Ministry added.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry also chided the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for facilitating the visit without seeking the approval of Baghdad. “We are surprised by the position of the government of the region, which facilitated the visit without the knowledge of the federal government and thereby violated its constitutional responsibilities,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Local authorities in Kirkuk said the Turkish foreign minister's trip had been unannounced. “We were only aware of the visit half an hour before it started,” said Rekan al-Saeed, the deputy governor of Kirkuk, according to a report by the AFP. “We look at this visit as a personal one with no diplomatic or political goal, as long as it has not been approved by official federal channels.”
Davutoğlu is the first Turkish foreign minister to set foot in the city since 1937. Speaking to reporters at the headquarters of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Davutoğlu pledged that Turkey would use all its means to maintain peace in Kirkuk.
“Kirkuk's unity and fraternity is Iraq's unity and fraternity. In Kirkuk, Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs have lived together for centuries and they will live in peace forever. And we will live together in peace with our Iraqi brothers regardless of their Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen or Christian identities,” Davutoğlu told reporters whom he greeted in Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic after a meeting with Kirkuk Governor Najmadin Kareem.
Prior to his speech, Davutoğlu met with the representatives of Turkmen parties and institutions in Kirkuk. Davutoğlu delivered messages of unity and solidarity to Kirkuk's Turkmen minority, adding that Turkey has not forgotten them.
“This is the most important day of my life. I am visiting Kirkuk, which was always a dream. I am happy to be the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Kirkuk in 75 years. Kirkuk will be an eternal city of peace in Iraq where our Turkmen, Kurdish and Arab brothers live together,” said Davutoğlu, adding that Turkey considers itself equally close to all ethnic and religious groups in Iraq.
The Turkish minister added that Kirkuk is becoming one of the fastest-growing cities in the world with its vast natural resources and that Turkey is ready to extend support for the development of the city. He also stated that Kirkuk, with its history and social structure, reflects the soul of the Middle East.
Davutoğlu held a series of talks in the city, which is also home to a sizeable population of Turkmen, ethnic kin of Turkey's ethnic majority. Turkish diplomatic sources told the Anatolia news agency that Davutoğlu's visit was long planned, but had been kept secret due to security concerns.
Davutoğlu's Kirkuk visit followed his meeting with KRG President Massoud Barzani for talks on developments regarding Syria's Kurdish minority. Iraqi Kurds have long been at odds with the Iraqi government and relations between Ankara and Baghdad have also been tense, due to what Turkey perceives to be the Iraqi Shiite-led government's attempt to monopolize power at the expense of other groups in the country.
In a development that is likely to further upset the Iraqi central government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was due to meet with Iyad Allawi, a political rival of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, later on Thursday in Ankara.