“Iraqi Kurds have concerns over the recent thaw between Ankara and Baghdad because the KRG has not yet solved its problems with Baghdad. Ankara's support for Iraqi Kurds against the central government in Baghdad is of great importance. We hope that the recent thaw will not affect the strategic ties between the KRG and Turkey,” Aziz Barzani, a prominent Kurdish figure and academic at Salahaddin University in Arbil, said in an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman.
Very recently, in a surprise to all, relations between Ankara and Baghdad got back on track, with positive statements from officials on both sides and high-level bilateral visits.
Turkey's economic ties with the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is an issue of tension between Ankara and Baghdad. Growing ties in the area of energy between Turkey and the Kurdish region have raised eyebrows in Baghdad, which stressed that Turkey should ask the Iraqi government before taking any action in the region, and also led the ties to deteriorate to an all-time low.
Turkey claimed it was acting in compliance with the Iraqi federal constitution, which allocated shares of energy revenues to the KRG. Turkish officials have also clearly stated that the country will go ahead and forge deeper energy ties with the Kurdish authority in an effort to meet Turkey's ever-increasing energy needs.
“The economic benefits Turkey gets from the KRG are greater than the economic benefits it gets from the Iraqi central government. Turkey is aware of this reality, and that is why Turkish companies are in the KRG,” said Barzani.
As a growing country, Turkey desperately needs energy, and the KRG appears to be one of the best options for Turkey's energy needs. The two sides have inked energy deals to further improve economic relations.
“Turkey is also aware that without the KRG, it cannot solve the issue of the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK and go ahead with the peace process. I don't think that Turkey will ignore the Iraqi Kurds, even if it mends ties with Baghdad,” Barzani stressed.
Turkey and the KRG are cooperating to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem and the issue of the disarmament of the terrorist PKK, which has bases in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq.
PYD serves Syrian regime's interests, plays dangerous game
Troubled by the attitude of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, in northern Syria, the KRG has recently reiterated its discomfort and said the PYD has gone too far in committing violence against other Kurdish groups in Syria.
“The PYD is serving [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad's interests. It is playing a dangerous game by cooperating with Assad. We are disturbed by the fact that Assad uses the PYD against the Kurds, the KRG and Turkey,” said Barzani.
In Syria, in recent times, Kurds have gained ground in the country's north as a result of fierce fighting with al-Qaeda-linked radical groups. Kurdish militants are now controlling considerable swathes of territory in the north and northeastern parts of Syria, causing disputes among Kurds, particularly between PYD, and pro-[the KRG President Massoud] Barzani Kurdish parties.
“Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the KRG has striven for the unity of Kurds. KRG leader Barzani called the Kurdish groups in Syria, including the PYD, to Arbil in order to find a solution to the dispute among them,” said Barzani.
Turkey, a country greatly affected by incidents in neighboring Syria and decades-long terrorism, is trying to work with Barzani in Iraq and PYD leader Saleh Muslim in Syria.
Turkey has also held talks with the PYD. Muslim recently paid visits to Turkey for talks with Turkish officials -- considered as Turkey breaking the ice with the Syrian Kurdish group after a period of hostility.
When asked whether Turkey can play the role of mediator between the PYD and the KRG, Barzani replied by asking: “Can the KRG play the mediator role between Turkey and the PYD?”
Barzani maintained that the KRG did its utmost to bring Turkey and the PYD closer together.