Iraq, Türkiye to Elevate Security, Economic Ties after Erdogan Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
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Iraq, Türkiye to Elevate Security, Economic Ties after Erdogan Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said relations with Iraq were entering a new phase after the neighbors agreed to cooperate against Kurdish militants, boost economic ties via a new trade corridor and consider Iraq's needs for access to scarce water.

Erdogan was in Iraq on a long-awaited visit, the first by a Turkish leader since 2011, following years of strained relations as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants based in mountainous, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.

"I shared my belief that the PKK's presence in Iraq will end. We discussed the joint steps we can take against the terrorist organization PKK and its extensions targeting Türkiye," Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Baghdad.

The two countries agreed to a strategic framework agreement overseeing security, trade and energy as well as a 10-year deal on the management of water resources that would take Iraq's needs into account, Sudani said.

Sudani said the two countries would cooperate to bolster border security and act against non-state armed groups that could be working with terrorist organizations. He did not mention the PKK specifically.

An Iraqi government spokesperson said PKK members were welcome in Iraq so long as they did not engage in political activism or carry weapons. He did not elaborate.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies. Türkiye has conducted a series of cross-border operations against the group in northern Iraq since 2019.

Ankara plans a new swoop on the militants this spring and has sought Iraqi cooperation, in the form of a joint operations room, as well as recognition by Baghdad of the PKK threat.

"Iraq must eradicate all sorts of terror," the Turkish presidency said in a statement after Erdogan held talks with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, the most senior Kurdish official in Iraq.

Rashid said Baghdad backed joint work to fight terrorism and was against its territory being used to attack any neighbors, But Rashid opposed any attacks on its soil.

Iraq has in recent months tried to assuage Türkiye’s concerns about the PKK while pursuing its own agenda focused on growing economic ties and increasing access to scarce water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that originate in Türkiye, amid growing drought at home.

DEVELOPMENT ROAD

Iraq and Türkiye signed more than 20 MoUs during Erdogan's one-day visit on everything from cultural and agricultural cooperation to education and health, a statement from Sudani's office said.

Erdogan and Sudani also oversaw the signing of a four-way memorandum of understanding between Türkiye, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for joint cooperation on Iraq's $17 billion Development Road project, with Qatari and Emirati ministers in attendance.

Launched last year, the 1,200-km (745-mile) road and rail project aims to turn Iraq into a transit hub, connecting Asia and Europe with a link between Iraq's Grand Faw Port in the oil-rich south and Türkiye in the north.

Türkiye’s bilateral trade with Iraq was worth $19.9 billion in 2023, down from $24.2 billion in 2022, official Turkish data showed. In the first three months of 2024, Turkish exports to Iraq rose by 24.5%, while imports fell by 46.2%.

After meetings in Baghdad, Erdogan was set to travel to Erbil, the provincial capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.



Clashes Escalate in Sudan’s North Darfur

Rapid Support Forces members. (AP)
Rapid Support Forces members. (AP)
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Clashes Escalate in Sudan’s North Darfur

Rapid Support Forces members. (AP)
Rapid Support Forces members. (AP)

Clashes renewed on Monday between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in several locations in North Darfur, while each side claimed to have inflicted the other with heavy losses in lives and military equipment.

Eyewitnesses said fierce ground clashes took place early in the morning in the vicinity of El Fasher, and around the Zarq and Um Baar areas, which are controlled by the RSF.

Meanwhile, residents fear counter-attacks following threats launched by several RSF leaders, who vowed to strongly respond to the killing of Ali Yagoub Gibril, one of their senior commanders during a battle in the besieged north Darfur city of El Fasher last Friday.

Social media accounts affiliated with the RSF posted videos showing violent clashes that took place Monday in the Um Baar area.

The video also showed destroyed military and armored vehicles of the army and the armed movements backing it.

Since the outbreak of fighting in Sudan, the RSF has pushed large numbers of its forces to capture the town of El Fasher. The city is the army's last stronghold in the western Darfur region.

On Sunday, RSF commander Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, also known as Hemedti, blamed the escalation in El Fasher on armed factions “that have abandoned neutrality and chosen to side with their slaughterer.”

A resident of El Fasher said the Eid Al-Adha celebrations were completely absent, and that many residents did not leave their homes to perform religious rituals for fear of bombs targeting residential neighborhoods.