Erdoğan in Iraq to mend ties, discuss military operations, natural resources

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has arrived in Iraq, for his first official visit after 12 years of strained relations. The leaders discussed cooperation against the outlawed PKK, water usage rights and signed a cooperation memorandum on Iraq's grand Development Road Project.

Erdoğan (L) with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (R) summarize their discussions in a press conference.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 22 began a rare visit to neighboring Iraq aiming to reset rocky bilateral ties with a raft of deals covering energy, trade, and security cooperation against Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK) militants.

Erdoğan's long-awaited visit is the first by a Turkish leader since 2011 and follows years of strained relations as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against PKK militants based in mountainous, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.

"President Erdoğan stated that Turkey had expectations from Iraq in the battle with the PKK terrorist organization, that Iraq must eradicate all sorts of terror," the Turkish presidency said in a statement after talks between Erdoğan and Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid.

Rashid - the most senior Kurdish official in Iraq - said Baghdad backed joint work to fight terrorism and was against its territory being used to attack any neighbours, the Iraqi presidency said. But Rashid also said Baghdad opposed any attacks on its territory.

Iraq has said Turkish military operations have violated its sovereignty and killed civilians. Ankara says it must protect itself against the PKK, which Turkey and its Western allies designate as a terrorist group.

Turkey 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.

Cooperation on big economic projects was also on the table.

Erdoğan and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani oversaw the signing of a four-way memorandum of understanding between Turkey, 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 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 Turkey in the north.

Baghdad is also seeking a deal to secure a larger share of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, both of which originate in Turkey and are the main source of freshwater in drought-stricken Iraq.

Rashid told Erdoğan that Iraq was entitled to its "fair share" of that water, according to the Iraqi presidency.

Iraqi and Turkish officials said more than 20 memorandums of understanding would be signed during Erdoğan's one-day visit.

Bilateral trade was worth $19.9 billion in 2023, down from $24.2 billion in 2022, according to official Turkish data. 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, Erdoğan was set to travel to Erbil, the provincial capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed since then.

Since 2019, Turkey has conducted a series of cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the PKK dubbed "Claw".

The Iraqi National Security Council on March 14 announced that it has designated the PKK an "outlawed organization," which was previously characterized as a "common threat."