New Dynamism in Türkiye-Iraq Relations after Sudani’s Visit

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani visited the Turkish capital, Ankara, for a two-day official visit on March 21-22. The first day of the visit was booked for official meetings; however, Prime Minister Sudani was able to meet with groups of Turkish business people the following day. This visit was especially significant since it was Sudani’s first visit to Türkiye since taking office on October 27, 2022. Although the visit was expected to take place at an earlier time, the preparations for it were accelerated by the delivery of the invitation letter from the President of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on December 29, 2022 to Sudani. The issues of economy, security, and water, which have become the cornerstones of the foreign policy between the two countries, were discussed in detail in these meetings. In addition, developments about the Faw Grand Port and Development Canal, previously named the Dry Canal and Iraqi Silk Way, held a high place on the agenda. The significance of this topic is supported by Sudani’s examination of the progress of the projects in Basra twice in the month preceding his Ankara visit. On top of this, Sudani’s reference to Iraq regaining its ‘natural place’ a couple of days prior to his visit indicates the Iraqi desire for a balanced foreign policy. In this regard, Sudani’s visit to Ankara is highly important for Iraqi-Turkish relations. With this in mind, this visit hints at a return to previous Iraqi foreign policy.

Iraq aimed to have a balanced foreign policy between regional and global actors. However, given Iraq’s post-2003 history of civil war, terrorism, and political conflict, decision-makers neglected this policy. At the moment, due to the country’s military victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) and higher oil income, Sudani has the grounds for shifting Iraq to its ‘natural position’.

In this context, Sudani arrived in Ankara, and President Erdoğan welcomed him at the Presidential Complex. After the official welcoming ceremony, the Turkish president and Iraqi prime minister had a one-on-one meeting, which was followed by a meeting between delegations and a formal dinner. Members of the delegations included ministers and officials who are responsible for bilateral relations, security, climate and water, development, trade, and energy portfolios.

A New Dynamism in the Relations
Portfolios that were discussed during the meeting show the multidimensional nature of the bilateral relations between Türkiye and Iraq. This fact was also visible in the joint press conference after the meeting. President Erdoğan stated Türkiye’s support for the Development Canal, referring to the project as the new Silk Road, and Türkiye’s willingness to cooperate towards a common struggle against all terror groups together. The issue of water, perhaps the most important topic for the Iraqi people and delegation, was highlighted. President Erdoğan said that “even though Türkiye was facing the harshest drought in 62 years, we have decided to increase the amount of water released from the Tigris river for one month.” Therefore, it can be said that the transboundary water issue is considered as an area of cooperation rather than a conflict issue.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Sudani mentioned that they had decided on increasing relations in all portfolios, including more cooperation and intelligence sharing on transboundary security issues. Sudani also shared the good news that easier and quicker visa procedures, especially for business travel, will be facilitated. He also invited Turkish delegations to Baghdad for further talks on the Development Canal and water issues.

Expectations after the Visit
The positive atmosphere of the meeting shows that a new dynamism will be reached in the bilateral relations, including many subjects. However, it is expected that the most visible part of the new dynamism will be in infrastructure projects and trade. In this regard, it is quite possible that these issues will become a driving force for bilateral relations in general. In other words, these topics will be laying the groundwork for cooperation in other fields.

It is also expected that relations between the two countries will begin to be handled separately. The fact that the issues between the two countries were discussed by combining them with each other in general caused no progress to be made within the expected time. However, particularly due to Türkiye’s well-intentioned stance on the water issue and its commitment to release more water to its neighbor despite the drought, paves the way for each issue to be discussed separately. Therefore, a general acceleration in relations is expected.

The issues that can be described as problematic between the two countries may begin to be addressed from different perspectives in this new accelerated period. The fact that the government established in Iraq continues to function steadily without major cracks allows for such developments. The Iraqi government’s willingness to pursue a balanced foreign policy also lays the groundwork for these improvements. On top of this, in the general sense, Iraq improving its relations with Türkiye, in return, will help Prime Minister Sudani achieve his government goals. Therefore, despite the difficulties, it can be said that a new era has begun in Iraqi foreign policy, which is based on cooperation instead of conflict.

This article was published on Rudaw on March 22, 2023, with the title " New Dynamism in Türkiye-Iraq Relations after Sudani’s Visit"