On Feb. 16, following decades of disruption, Turkey and Iraq restored a rail link running from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to Gaziantep in southern Turkey, via Syria. The move is a concrete illustration of Turkey's increased efforts to develop commercial ties with Iraq, initiatives that Ankara has in turn used to establish a platform upon which it can deepen its diplomatic role and limit destabilizing spillover effects from its volatile neighbor. The strategy has paid off, as demonstrated by the recent visits to Ankara of a host of Iraqi political players -- including 'Ammar al-Hakim, Humam Hammoudi and Osama al-Tikriti -- in the weeks preceding Iraq's upcoming national parliamentary elections.
In many ways, Turkey's rise as a major diplomatic player on the Iraqi stage serves as a counterpoint to Iran's magnified role, with both pro-actively promoting their interests by attempting to reintegrate Iraq into the region on their own terms. That stands in stark contrast to Iraq's Arab neighbors, who have utterly failed to seriously prepare for the United States' impending withdrawal.
Under the activist stewardship of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his "zero problems" regional policy, efforts to expand the reach of Turkish influence in Iraq have only accelerated. While lucrative economically, these initiatives have also enabled Turkey to increase its leverage with Baghdad as well as to better manage its geopolitically sensitive relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).