Iraqi Kurdish president visits Turkey as Erdoğan's 'special guest'

Nechirvan Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), travelled on Friday to Istanbul, where he was received as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “special guest”, Iraqi Kurdish media network Rudaw reported.

Erdoğan announced late on Thursday that the Iraqi Kurdish president would be arriving the following day, calling him his “special guest” and remarking that the visit would focus on building economic links.

Despite a confrontation in 2017 after the KRG held an independence referendum that was not mandated by Baghdad, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish administration have a close trade relationship.

Turkey’s former prime minister Binali Yıldırım, who is running as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate in the Istanbul rerun on Sunday, described Barzani as a well-known figure in Turkey.

The timing of Barzani’s visit has raised eyebrows in Turkey, where some have interpreted it as a last-ditch effort by the ruling party to draw Kurdish votes ahead of Sunday’s election.

Yıldırım lost the first vote by a small margin on March 31 after a campaign by the AKP that directed accusations of “terrorism” at opposition parties for accepting support from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The ruling party has adopted a softer approach in the campaign for the rerun, with Yıldırım visiting the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır during the Eid holiday to reach out to Kurdish voters.

Barzani’s visit comes a day after unconfirmed reports that Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), sent a letter urging HDP voters to remain neutral, and not renew their support of the opposition candidate on Sunday.

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