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Kurdish separatists and water issues loom large in long-awaited visit of Turkey's Erdogan to Iraq

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Kurdish separatists and water issues loom large in long-awaited visit of Turkey's Erdogan to Iraq
News

News

Kurdish separatists and water issues loom large in long-awaited visit of Turkey's Erdogan to Iraq

2024-04-22 23:56 Last Updated At:04-23 00:01

BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdog an arrived in Iraq on Monday for his first official visit in more than a decade as Ankara seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in Iraq.

Other issues also loom large between the two countries, including water supply and exports of oil and gas from northern Iraq to Turkey, halted for more than a year.

Erdogan, whose last visit to Baghdad was in 2011, when he was prime minister, met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as they inked agreements on water management, security, energy and economic cooperation.

“I believe that my visit and the agreements just signed will constitute a new turning point in Turkey-Iraq relations,” Erdogan said in a joint news conference with al-Sudani.

Al-Sudani said they discussed “bilateral security coordination, which will meet the needs of both parties and confront the challenges posed by the presence of armed elements that may cooperate with terrorism and violate the security of the two countries.”

Erdogan's visit “comes at a sensitive and dangerous time," al-Sudani added, citing Israel's war against the Hamas militant group in Gaza — a war that has had ripple effects across the region.

Erdogan said the leaders had “consulted on the joint steps we can take against the PKK terrorist organization and its extensions, which target Turkey from Iraqi territory," referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement banned in Turkey.

The PKK has maintained bases in northern Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Erdogan had previously announced a major operation against the PKK during the summer, with the aim of “permanently” eradicating the threat it poses. He did not specify what actions Turkish forces would take in Iraq but Turkish forces have in the past carried out numerous ground offensives against PKK in northern Iraq and Turkish jets frequently target suspected PKK sites.

Ankara now aims to create a 30-40 kilometer (19-25 mile) deep security corridor along the joint border with Iraq, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler told journalists last month.

The insurgency — the PKK is fighting for an autonomous Kurdish state in southeast Turkey — has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s and Turkey and its Western allies have labelled PKK a terrorist organization.

Baghdad has long complained that Turkish actions in Iraq against the PKK violate its sovereignty, but appears to be acquiescing with Ankara’s operations.

In March, after a meeting between the Iraqi and Turkish foreign ministers, Baghdad announced that the Iraqi National Security Council had issued a ban on the PKK, although it stopped short of designating it as a terrorist organization. Erdogan on Monday praised the ban.

Al-Sudani told journalists during a visit to Washington last week that Iraq and Turkey have “true interests with one another and common projects.” He noted that the PKK has long had a presence in northern Iraq, “but we are not allowing any armed group to be on Iraqi territory and using it as a launchpad for attacks.”

Ankara has argued that PKK's presence in Iraq threatens the planned construction of a major trade route, the Iraq Development Road, that would connect the port in Basra, southern Iraq, to Turkey and Europe through a network of rail lines and highways.

Baghdad may take a similar approach to the PKK as it has taken to Iranian Kurdish dissident groups based in northern Iraq.

The presence of Iranian dissidents had become a point of tension with Tehran, which periodically launches airstrikes on their bases in Iraq. Last summer, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to disarm the groups and relocate their members from military bases to displacement camps.

Energy issues and water rights are also key in Iraq-Turkey ties.

An oil pipeline running from the semiautonomous Kurdish region to Turkey has been shut down since March 2023, after an arbitration court ruling ordered Ankara to pay Iraq $1.5 billion for oil exports that bypassed Iraq's central government in Baghdad. The sharing of oil and gas revenues has long been a contentious issue between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Irbil.

In recent years, Iraqi officials have complained that dams built by Turkey are reducing Iraq’s water supply.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide most of Iraq’s fresh water, originate in Turkey. Experts fear that climate change is likely to exacerbate existing water shortages in Iraq, with potentially devastating consequences.

Mustafa Hassan, a Baghdad resident, said he hopes that Erdogan’s visit “will help to solve problems related to water, because Iraq is suffering from a water scarcity crisis, and this affects agriculture.”

Erdogan said Ankara was aware of the water problems Iraq faces and that the two countries have set up "a joint permanent committee which is going to help through cooperation ... taking our shared interests into consideration.”

Fraser reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Ali Jabar in Baghdad contributed to this report.

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speak to the media after their talks, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Erdogan was set to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday April 22, 2024 as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speak to the media after their talks, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Erdogan was set to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday April 22, 2024 as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Erdogan was set to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday April 22, 2024 as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Erdogan was set to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday April 22, 2024 as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

Next Article

Putin arrives in neighboring Belarus for a two-day visit with a key ally

2024-05-24 06:42 Last Updated At:06:51

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived Thursday in Belarus for a two-day visit as part of several foreign tours to kick off his fifth term in office, underscoring close ties with a neighboring ally that has been instrumental in Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

Putin traveled to China earlier this month, and is expected in Uzbekistan on Sunday. Earlier on Thursday, the Russian president hosted Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in the Kremlin.

In Belarus, Putin is to hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko greeted him on the tarmac, and then the two sat down for a “short conversation” at the airport, the Kremlin reported. Lukashenko promised to discuss “security issues at the forefront, and tomorrow we will discuss economic issues together with our colleagues from the governments.”

The Belarusian leader on Thursday appointed a new chief of the country's military general staff in a move that analysts say is aimed at showing the Kremlin the utmost loyalty of its neighbor and ally.

Russia used Belarus, which depends on Russian loans and cheap energy, as a staging ground in the war in Ukraine, deploying some of its troops there from Belarusian territory. In 2023, Russia also moved some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Maj. Gen. Pavel Muraveyka, who was appointed as chief of Belarus' General Staff and as first deputy defense minister, is known for publicly threatening neighboring NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

In October 2023, he said that Belarus could seize the so-called Suwalki Gap — a sparsely populated stretch of land running about 100 kilometers (60 miles) along the Polish-Lithuanian border. It links Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with the rest of the NATO alliance and separates Belarus from Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that has no land connection to Russia.

Military analysts in the West have long viewed the Suwalki Gap as a potential flashpoint in any confrontation between Russia and NATO. They worry that Russia might try to seize the gap and cut off the three Baltic states from Poland and other NATO nations.

“Muraveiko’s appointment is an open challenge to the West and a desire to show Putin Minsk’s complete loyalty and willingness to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia,” independent Belarusian analyst Valery Karbalevich told The Associated Press.

“The deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus does not leave Lukashenko a strategic choice, turns him into a hostage of the Kremlin and firmly binds Minsk to Moscow’s policies," Karbalevich said.

Both Russia and Belarus began military drills involving tactical nuclear weapons earlier this month. Moscow said its drills, announced publicly for the first time on May 6, were a response to statements by Western officials signaling possibly deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine. Belarus launched its maneuvers involving missiles and warplanes capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons on May 7; Russia's exercises began this week.

Moscow has emphasized that the tactical nuclear weapons deployed to Belarus remain under Russian military control.

Unlike nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can destroy entire cities, tactical nuclear weapons intended for use against troops on the battlefield are less powerful. Such weapons include aerial bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions.

The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which has a 1,084-kilometer (673-mile) border with Ukraine, would allow Russian aircraft and missiles to reach potential targets there more easily and quickly if Moscow decides to use them. It also extends Russia’s capability to target several NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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