Turkish PM Erdoğan in Baghdad to boost ties

March 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Turkish PM Erdoğan in Baghdad to boost ties

Monday, March 28, 2011 – Hürriyet
BAGHDAD – From wire dispatches
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki (L) greets Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Baghdad. AA photo.
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki (L) greets Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Baghdad. AA photo.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived Monday in Baghdad with dozens of businessmen on a visit aimed at boosting political and economic ties between the two neighbors.

Erdoğan, who is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, is also expected to travel to Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region, the first Turkish prime minister to do so. The fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has rear-bases in the border area, will also be discussed during Erdoğan’s visit, according to sources in Ankara. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

“PKK terrorism, which arises from the north of Iraq and is a threat to our country, is also an issue we will bring up with the Iraqi authorities,” Erdoğan told reporters Monday before flying out of Ankara.

Turkey has repeatedly accused Iraqi Kurds of turning a blind eye to activity within Iraq by the PKK but their leaders have been careful not to anger their larger neighbor.

Turkish firms provide 80 percent of the Kurdish region’s food and clothes, and trade rose 30 percent between 2008 and 2009. Overall Iraqi-Turkish trade, much of which passes through northern Iraq, amounted to 7 billion dollars in 2009.

At the top of his agenda, however, were business investments, including some to help Iraq export oil and boost its dwindling electricity and water supplies.

“Increasing cooperation between Turkey and Iraq in all fields is of key importance for the stability and welfare of the whole region,” Erdoğan said.

“We aim to turn the Mesopotamian basin into a joint area of stability and welfare through a wide spectrum of projects, from energy to trade, from health to construction and from water resources to transportation,” he said.

Reflecting on Turkey’s rising power and popularity in the Arab world, which cuts across sectarian lines, hard-line Iraqi Shiites welcomed Erdogan’s visit, in particular because of his tough positions against Israel.

Waiting for Erdogan’s arrival, about 1,000 supporters of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lined the road leading from the airport into Baghdad, waving Iraqi and Turkish flags. The group hailed the Sunni Turkish prime minister for his criticism of Israel since last year’s deadly raid on a Turkish ship trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces killed nine Turks in the operation.

“We came here to welcome and greet a man of heroic positions – especially his strong positions against Israelis,” said Hasan Lazim Jumaa, 42, an intermediate school teacher in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighborhood.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called Erdoğan’s two-day trip an important visit and said the Turkish premier would also meet Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani – Iraqi-based Shiism’s highest ranking cleric in the Middle East – to discuss unrest in Bahrain and strife across the Arab world.

Political observers in Baghdad believe Sistani may ask Erdoğan to act as a mediator in Bahrain, where a Sunni monarchy has cracked down on Shiite-led protesters demanding greater rights and political freedoms.

Turkey, which has served as a mediator in many regional conflicts under Erdoğan, is also maintaining contacts with both sides in the fighting between Libyan rebels and Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in an attempt to arrange a cease-fire.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly said he fears the unrest in Bahrain could spark sectarian violence around the Middle East – a particularly frightening scenario for Iraq, which is only just recovering from years of deadly Sunni-Shiite battles.

Ethnic clashes broke out Monday between Kurdish and Turkmen students outside a college in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Eleven students were injured in the scuffles, which included rock-throwing, said police Brig. Gen. Adel Zein-Alabdin. The competition for power in the oil-rich city involves Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, and tensions have simmered there for years.

Iraq’s Turkmen politicians told Agence France-Presse that Erdoğan was also expected to attempt to broker talks between ethnic Turkmen and Kurds over their rival claims to Kirkuk.

In Baghdad, three bombs exploded a few hours before Erdogan’s arrival, killing one person and wounding 13. Scattered violence continues to plague Iraq on a daily basis.

And in the northern city of Mosul, a former al-Qaeda stronghold, police said unknown gunmen stormed a family home, killing six women and a man in the early hours Monday before escaping.

Compiled from AP and AFP reports by the Daily News staff.

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