Fidan’s Intense and Subtle Diplomacy in Iraq

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan held a series of meetings in Iraq on August 22-24. Both the scope of this visit and the number and nature of the meetings, makes this visit a ‘significant landmark’ for the relations. On the evening of August 22, Fidan landed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and met with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein at the airport. The press conference held after the meeting revealed the scope of Fidan's visit. The ministers’ press conference showed that the fight against the terrorist organization PKK was the main agenda item, and the others are increasing the trade volume between the two countries, which has reached 25 billion dollars, solving the problems in the sale of Iraqi oil, devising a common mechanism and road map for water sharing between Turkey and Iraq, and working on the Development Road Project. The two ministers also stated that the issue of Islamophobia as a common issue for the entire Islamic world, was also discussed during the meeting, thus demonstrating Turkiye’s intent to carry the cooperation with Iraq beyond bilateral relations.

In the joint press conference, Fidan also stated that Turkiye will meticulously follow its policy of supporting Iraq's territorial integrity, political unity, and sovereignty, and emphasized that Iraq is a reliable partner for achieving strategic goals and Turkiye believes that Iraq's prosperity, security and stability will contribute to Turkiye's prosperity, security and stability. He also made it clear that supports the Sudani government.

Thus, Fidan once again laid out the framework of Turkiye's Iraq policy and showed that Turkiye would play its cards openly by clearly iterating his position before the talks. At this point, it would not be wrong to say that Fidan created a "positive" atmosphere before the talks began.

The Meaning of the Visit
It was noteworthy that during the press conference, Fidan remarked that he had visited Iraq regularly and continuously during his previous post, thereby signaling that he would work with a "new spirit". In this sense, he emphasized that he knew the files and actors, but he also conveyed the message to the Iraqi parties that he would approach the issues as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, not the Director of National Intelligence, and that his visit should be treated as such. For Iraqis, Fidan is not an ordinary official or minister. The Iraqi reporter's use of the phrase "known as President Erdoğan's black box" during a statement I gave to an Iraqi TV channel about the visit is the clearest indicator of the Iraqi view of Fidan. In this sense, it would not be wrong to say that Iraqis have great expectations for Fidan's visit.

Indeed, Fidan's performance during his visit to Iraq does not seem to have disappointed Iraqis' expectations. In almost two days, he visited Baghdad, then Erbil, and held more than 20 meetings. He has undertaken heavy diplomatic traffic in a way that perhaps no Turkish official has ever done before.

In Baghdad, he did not miss any senior official, including the president of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court. He met with the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, and the Minister of Defense. He also met with the leader representing both Shiite and Sunni Arabs in the government.

He met with the pro-Iranian figures, which are Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Fatah Coalition, Faleh Fayyad, the head of the Hashd al-Shaabi delegation, and even Qais al-Hazali, the leader of Asaib Ahlil Haq, who is known for his anti-Turkish rhetoric. He also met with Turkmens in Baghdad. As Fidan made himself available to Turkmens in such a busy agenda showed Turkiye’s sensitivity towards Turkmens once again and that it constituted a message to the Iraqi side in this sense.

In addition, it was important that Fidan brought together all Turkmen political organizations as well as opinion leaders and gave a message of unity before the Provincial Council Elections, which have not been held throughout Iraq since 2013 and in Kirkuk since 2005 and are currently scheduled to be held in December 2023. In particular, the fact that Hasan Turan, the Chairman of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) and Erşat Salihi, the former ITF Chairman and Kirkuk MP, sat side by side was also important in terms of showing Turkiye’s unifying power since there were rumors of tensions between these two figures.

Strengthening Relations
After Baghdad, Fidan traveled to Erbil, where he visited KDP leader Massoud Barzani, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Nechirvan Barzani, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, as well as the Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic Movement. Fidan’s meeting with PUK's Qubad Talabani at a time of problematic relations with the PUK, especially due to the situation in Sulaymaniyah, where the presence of the terrorist organization PKK is intense, showed that the doors were not closed. Moreover, Fidan’s visit to the Arbil Office of the Iraqi Turkmen Front was a message to Erbil in terms of Turkmens.

A subtle and surprising point about the visit was observed when Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar joined Fidan in Erbil during Iraqi Oil Minister Hayal Abdulgani’s visit to Turkiye.

At this point, it seems that a great effort is being made to reactivate the Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, which has been closed since March 25. Although no "concrete" steps were taken during the visit, it would not be wrong to say that relations with Iraq will evolve into a different dimension after Fidan's visit. This is because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also scheduled to visit Iraq in the upcoming period. In this sense, it would not be wrong to say that Fidan made a productive preparatory visit before President Erdoğan's visit.

In other words, Fidan plowed the field in Iraq and made it ready for planting. The process shows that Iraq will yield a good harvest.

This article was formerly published on Milliyet website, on 27 August 2023, with the heading “Fidan’s intense and subtle diplomacy in Iraq”.