Iraq, Turkey want to integrate economies, transform Mideast

Iraq, Turkey want to integrate economies, transform Mideast

Davutoğlu shakes hands with Zebari, before the Turkey-Iraq High Level Strategic Cooperation Council’s First Ministerial Meeting in İstanbul.

September 18, 2009, Friday/ 17:05:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
İstanbul on Thursday hosted a landmark meeting of Iraqi and Turkish ministers, not only aiming to expand bilateral cooperation on an unprecedented scale but also to transform the historic Mesopotamian region, which was once the cradle of a succession of glorious civilizations, into a prosperous zone of integrated economies.

The two-day meeting, which kicked off on Thursday, has been the first ministerial meeting between the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, a mechanism of joint meetings of the Iraqi and Turkish cabinets, and was jointly led by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. Davutoğlu was accompanied by seven executive ministers of the Cabinet, including the ministers of trade, energy, transportation, agriculture and environment, while Zebari was accompanied by nine executive ministers of the Iraqi Cabinet, who are the counterparts of the seven Turkish ministers, as well as three deputy ministers.

"Today is a historic day for Turkey-Iraq relations and for our region. We are now bringing to life a brand new model of cooperation," Davutoğlu said as he inaugurated the meeting, asserting that the two countries aimed at "full and true economic integration." He added: "The projects that we will create from now on will link Basra [at Iraq's southern border] to Edirne [on Turkey's border with Europe]. The fate of Baghdad and the fate of İstanbul will be common."

Davutoğlu also said the meeting in İstanbul would be preparation for the upcoming meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which will be held in Baghdad, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presiding over the meeting. "This is such an important project that, when realized, peoples living side by side for centuries will reunite in a shared economic basin. Our capabilities and assets will be mobilized to create a very powerful economic region."

“For Turkey, Iraq is a brotherly country whose stability is our own stability, whose welfare is our own welfare and whose security is our own security,” Davutoğlu said, stressing that they wanted Turkey's approach to Iraq, which is based on an understanding of model partnership, to spread into the region.

Turkish and Iraqi ministers attend the first meeting of the Turkey-Iraq High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in İstanbul.

Bid to change nature of Middle East

The meeting between Turkish and Iraqi ministers came a day after Turkey and Syria signed a deal to create a similar mechanism of strategic cooperation during a visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to İstanbul on Wednesday evening.

On Wednesday, Davutoğlu and his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, signed an accord to end visa requirements and signed a bilateral cooperation accord under which top ministers from the two countries will meet each year. The accord, called the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council Agreement, is similar to the mechanism between Turkey and Iraq.

“If this process that has started between Turkey and Iraq spreads into the region, the Middle East will no longer remain as the region of crisis, tensions and conflicts. It will turn into a very important basin where joint interests and mechanisms of joint political dialogue and security are realized and which can revive that great civilization,” Davutoğlu said.

In a recent address, Davutoğlu said that Turkey is ready to engage in unlimited cooperation with regional countries in order to once again turn the Mesopotamian region into a prosperous area.  “We have been facing the issue of building the Middle East region together,” Davutoğlu said on Thursday.

Zebari, who also delivered an opening address before the meeting, expressed his country's determination for exerting strong efforts to protect the joint interests of Iraq and Turkey.

“As the Iraqi side, we wish for cooperation that can shape the future of the region like Mr. Minister [Davutoğlu] said in his speech,” Zebari said, voicing Baghdad's will for a strong and productive bilateral cooperation in the fields of security, economy, energy, oil, natural gas, water and health.

Joint will for shaping region’s future

“I want to underline that as the Iraqi administration, we are determined to continue our efforts and exert all our power, which will contribute to joint interests in order to realize this joint will,” Zebari said.

A shadow cast over bilateral relations between Iraq and Turkey due to the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq gradually dispersed in 2008, while Turkey also improved its relations with the regional Kurdish administration in northern Iraq following a long hiatus after the US invasion of Iraq.

Seeds of multidimensional bilateral cooperation between Ankara and Baghdad were actually sown during Erdoğan's July 2008 visit. Then, Erdoğan and Maliki signed a strategic partnership agreement committing Turkey and Iraq to cooperation in the fields of politics, economy, energy, water, culture and security. The formation of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was outlined during Erdoğan's July 2008 visit.

In July, after accompanying Erdoğan on an official one-day visit to Syria, Davutoğlu announced that Turkey and Syria plan to initiate a strategic cooperation mechanism similar to the one between Turkey and Iraq. He had already stated that Turkey also wished to improve cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, which is supported by various mechanisms, to offer a model for other countries in the region.

According to the strategic partnership agreement signed between Ankara and Baghdad, the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council will meet at least once a year, with the prime ministers of the two countries presiding over the meeting. The ministerial level mechanism, meanwhile, will meet at least three times a year, while technical delegations will meet four times a year. Decisions made at the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council will be implemented through an action plan.

When the strategic partnership agreement was signed between Ankara and Baghdad, Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh had said the agreement would be in favor of the Kurdish people and help ease the tension between Turkey and the regional Kurdish administration.

Barham Salih, Iraq's former deputy prime minister, had called the agreement “the starting point of the Middle East common market” and likened improving relations between Iraq and Turkey to the relationship of France and Germany in the 1950s. Salih has been recently chosen as the head of government of the Kurdish region.

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