Turkey, Kurds cement ties amid new row with Iraqi gov’t

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, in Ankara on Thursday. (Photo: AA)

May 17, 2012, Thursday/ 18:20:00

A senior Iraqi Kurdish official and Turkey’s top leaders had talks in Ankara on Thursday, discussing ways to expand bilateral trade ties and reaffirming their joint commitment to fight Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism, as Turkey’s already tense relations with Iraq’s Shiite-led government hit a new snag, this time over the behavior of two Turkish diplomats in Iraq.

Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. He was also due to have talks with President Abdullah Gül later in the day.

“Our mutual understanding regarding counterterrorism efforts and our commitment to continue to jointly fight terrorism has been reaffirmed,” a Turkish official close to Thursday’s talks told Today’s Zaman. The official also said the two sides discussed plans to open two new border gates and issues regarding the trade of petro-chemical products and border trade.

Iraq is Turkey’s second largest trading partner after Germany, with trade reaching $12 billion last year, more than half of which was with the Kurdish region.

The Turkish government has recently forged close ties with the Iraqi Kurdish government, which is embroiled in a row with the Baghdad government over claims to the city of Kirkuk and the region’s oil.

The official said the domestic political situation in Iraq was also on the agenda during Barzani’s talks. He did not elaborate.

Barzani’s talks in Ankara came as Iraq announced it had summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to protest the behavior of two Turkish diplomats. An official from Iraq’s foreign ministry met with Turkey’s ambassador, Yunus Demirer, to complain about the Turkish diplomats in the cities of Basra and Mosul, a statement on the foreign ministry website said on Thursday.

“Some activities conducted by the two Turkish Consuls General in Basra and Mosul ... are far from their consular duties and obligations as stated in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations of 1963,” the statement said, without elaborating. It said that the meeting took place on Tuesday but did not say what the diplomats were accused of.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, have traded tit-for-tat criticisms and accusations several times this year. Erdoğan last month accused Maliki of fanning tensions between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds in Iraq through “self-centered” behavior.

Maliki quickly responded that Turkey was becoming a “hostile state” with a sectarian agenda, saying it was meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to establish regional “hegemony.” Iraq summoned Turkey’s ambassador at the time and Turkey responded by summoning Iraq’s envoy in Ankara, in each case for formal notification of a protest against the diplomat’s government.

Analysts say mainly Sunni Turkey is worried that growing tensions in Iraq and violence in their mutual neighbor Syria may lead to a wider Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region.

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