Thursday, April 19, 2012

KRG leader Barzani visits Turkey as alliance with Iraqi Kurds deepens

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), is set to visit Turkey on Thursday and Friday to speak with Turkish officials and Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, on bilateral relations, regional developments, the fight against terrorism and serious internal political issues in Iraq, Today's Zaman reported.

A Foreign Ministry statement said Barzani was scheduled for a two-day visit, and was expected to be received by President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Sedat Laçiner, the rector of 18 Mart University in Çanakkale, told Today's Zaman that this was neither Barzani's first visit to Turkey nor his last and added that the essence of Barzani's visit was not to meet with Hashemi only, as was claimed by some. "This is not an extraordinary visit. Barzani has also had discussions with senior American officials recently. The Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] issue, Iraq's domestic issues and the crisis in Syria are expected to be discussed during his visit to Turkey," said Laçiner.

Turkey was content with Barzani's recent meeting with US leaders, where he spoke out against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's monopolization of political power in Iraq, which Turkey is also very critical of, and a broad range of other issues, including encouraging the KRG to continue engaging in the Iraqi political process under the auspices of Iraq's constitution. Barzani said US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden reassured him that the United States would remain committed to cooperation with Kurdistan and committed to helping Iraq solve its serious internal political disputes.

Laçiner underlined that the relations between Turkey and Barzani have improved and become closer in recent times compared to the past. "In the past, Turkey and Barzani had very different relations, but today they meet as two close allies. So, this meeting will be a meeting of two partners," said Laçiner. He added that both sides -- Turkey and Barzani -- were in serious cooperation on many issues, including PM Maliki's policies and the PKK.

Barzani is also expected to meet with Hashemi, for whom the Shiite-led central government issued an arrest warrant in late 2011. Hashemi already stated that he will return to Iraq and will not seek political asylum in neighboring countries.

Hashemi went to Qatar in early April, leaving the country for the first time after the crisis broke out in December. After that he visited Saudi Arabia, which is uneasy with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Last week Hashemi came to Turkey, seeking political support. He met with Prime Minister Erdoğan and other officials to assess the situation in Iraq.

When asked about Iraqi Vice President Hashemi's situation, Laçiner stated that Turkey prefers Hashemi stay in Iraq. "Turkey wants Hashemi to live in his own country, Iraq, and to find solutions to the domestic problems of Iraq by preventing the occurrence of serious mistakes," said Laçiner.

Hashemi is trying to bolster his case, that he remains a key member of Iraq's government despite being a wanted man in Baghdad on charges of terrorism. The KRG refuses to hand over the fugitive vice president to the central government, despite calls from Baghdad.

The KRG's relations with the Shiite-led government, which already has long-running disputes with Kurds over territory and oil, were strained further when Vice President Hashemi, one of Iraq's leading Sunni politicians, fled Baghdad for the Kurdish north in December to avoid prosecution at the hands of the Maliki-led government on charges of running death squads

Tayyar Arı, a professor at Uludağ University, told Today's Zaman that despite many problems, Turkey's relations with the KRG have improved in the recent years and that both sides have managed to agree on specific issues. "Especially after Maliki's policies in Iraq, it became compulsory for Turkey and the KRG to be in close contact. Maliki's insincere attitude towards Sunnis led Turkey to take more initiatives towards the Sunni issue. Hashemi's visit to the KRG, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey shows that the problem is not solved yet," said Arı.

He underlined that Hashemi was not going to be the sole topic that would be discussed between Turkish senior officials and Barzani. "Regional security issues, in particular border security, border operation and PKK infiltration, are still a top concern for Turkey. The KRG is trying to cooperate with Turkey on these issues," said Arı.

Iraqi Kurds have had strained relations with Turkey in the past due to the presence of the PKK in Kurdish-run northern Iraq, but ties have improved significantly in recent years. The Kurds are also striving to maintain balanced ties with Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite groups as they vie for influence in the country following the withdrawal of US troops.

Arı also noted that the Syrian crisis will be the other serious topic expected to be discussed. "Kurds' expectations, Assad's stance on Kurds, Turkey's approach to Kurds in Syria and Barzani's expectations from the Syrian issue will be the topics on the table," said Arı.

Regarding conciliation in the Syrian opposition, Arı stated that the international community was trying to unify the fragmented structure of the opposition. "In recent months we see that the opposition has turned to have a more integrated form. In this respect, the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People held in İstanbul is of great importance. Social opposition increased in recent months and we see that a great portion of Kurds supports the opposition in Syria," said Arı.

Barzani is scheduled to hold a national Kurdish conference in Arbil in the forthcoming days at which he is expected to make a call on the PKK to lay down its arms or be isolated.



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