ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said his country will soon reopen its consulates in the Iraqi cities of Basra in the south and Mosul in the north, which were closed due to security reasons.
During his visit to Iraq to meet with newly appointed President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Cavusoglu also announced Turkey’s goal to deepen economic and commercial ties with its neighbor. Last year, Turkey exported more than $9 billion of goods to Iraq.
The closure of Turkey’s consulates followed Daesh’s seizure of the one in Mosul in June 2014.
Forty-six Turks — including diplomats, their children and special forces officers — were taken hostage but were freed three months later.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute, said the reopening of the consulates is hugely significant.
“Turkey lost access to non-Kurdish areas of Iraq around 2010 when it sided with the lobby that lost elections to (former Prime Minister Nouri) Maliki,” Cagaptay told Arab News.
“Maliki’s government shut Turkey out of Iraq, and Turkey’s influence was limited to Kurdish areas, specifically those run by the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party).”
But more than a year after Daesh’s military defeat in Iraq, the landscape is changing. “Turkey is coming back into the Sunni Arab heartland in Mosul, where its exit was driven as much by the Al-Maliki government as by the rise of Daesh,” said Cagaptay. “It’s also now being allowed into the Shiite heartland, the Gulf and the port city of Basra.”
Experts say the reopening of the consulates is linked to the recent improvement in Turkish-Iraqi relations, especially since the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum in September 2017, which both Ankara and Baghdad opposed.
“It was the beginning of the Ankara-Baghdad spring, which is continuing,” said Cagaptay. “The reopening of the consulates is a sign of that change, and it’s important that Turkey re-establishes itself and is welcomed again in these cities (Mosul and Basra).” Turkey currently has an embassy in Baghdad and a consulate in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at Oxford University and research director at Al-Sharq Forum, said these steps are significant in light of developments in recent years in Iraq, especially the rise and fall of Daesh and the change in the country’s political landscape after the recent election.
“Turkey feels that both the US and Iran’s grip over Iraq might be weakening a bit. This is creating new opportunities for Turkey to exploit in Iraq,” he told Arab News.
Secondly, Sunni Arabs have always been Turkey’s traditional partner in Iraq, and Ankara wants to further strengthen them, Dalay said.
“Thirdly, Turkey will partly rehabilitate its recently deteriorating relations with Iraqi Kurds. At the same time, it wants to weaken the outlawed PKK’s (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) presence in Iraq.”
This does not mean that Turkey’s security concerns are fading away, but that it feels it can cope with them, Dalay added.