President of the Kurdistan regional administration in northern Iraq Massoud Barzani will pay a visit to Turkey on Thursday and Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has said.
A statement released by the ministry on Wednesday said Barzani will meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. “Bilateral relations and regional developments will be discussed during Mr. Barzani's visit as well as the issues of the fight against terrorism,” the statement added.
Iraqi Kurds have had strained relations with Turkey in the past due to the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Kurdish-run northern Iraq, but ties have improved significantly in recent years. The Kurds are also striving to maintain balanced ties with Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite groups as they vie for influence in the country following the withdrawal of US troops.
However, Kurds' relations with the Shiite-led government, which already has a long-running dispute with Kurds over territory and oil, were strained further when Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a leading Sunni politician, fled Baghdad for the Kurdish north in December to avoid prosecution at the hands of the Baghdad government on charges of running death squads. Sources say that during his visit to Turkey Barzani will also meet with al-Hashemi, for whom the Shiite-led central government issued an arrest warrant in late 2011.
Al-Hashemi went to Qatar in early April, leaving the country for the first time after the crisis broke out in December, and then went to Saudi Arabia, which is uneasy with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Last week al-Hashemi came to Turkey seeking political support. He met with Erdoğan and other officials to discuss the situation in Iraq.