In Iraq, Turkey Seeks to Mend Ties With Baghdad Without Alienating Kurds

In Iraq, Turkey Seeks to Mend Ties With Baghdad Without Alienating Kurds

Like with so many of its other neighbors, Turkey’s relations with Iraq have been something of a roller-coaster ride over the past few years. Initially benefitting from Ankara’s now-defunct “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, Turkey-Iraq relations were on the upswing until early 2012, when they quickly deteriorated and came close to hitting rock bottom.

In recent weeks, though, both Ankara and Baghdad have started singing a different tune, in what appears to be to be an effort to bring their relations back from the brink and start working together again on mutual interests and concerns, particularly regarding the situation in Syria and the spillover each is experiencing from the conflict there. In late-October, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari paid a visit to Ankara, a trip that came on the heels of a visit to Baghdad by a high-level Turkish parliamentary delegation. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu followed that up with a visit to Baghdad yesterday, and reciprocal visits by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are being planned.

With its relations with Iraq seemingly on the mend, the question now facing Turkey is one of balance: Can Ankara continue to improve relations with Baghdad while at the same deepening its ties to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, with which Ankara has been making independent political, commercial and—most distressingly for the Iraqi central government—energy deals? At the same time, another important question facing Turkish leaders, as they seek to partially reboot their “zero problems” policy by improving ties with Iraq, is whether they can remain pragmatic and avoid getting tripped up by overly ambitious and occasionally grandiose visions of Turkey’s regional role and capability.

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