Turkish intelligence chief pushes Ankara’s interests in Iraq

Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan made a secret visit to Baghdad, during which he met a number of Iraqi officials, and which coincided with the start of the first round of dialogue between Iraq and the United States to develop relations between the two countries.

Informed sources in Baghdad told The Arab Weekly that Fidan’s visit aimed to explore the internal political atmosphere surrounding the Iraqi-American dialogue. The first round of that dialogue has resulted in the United States committing to the downsizing of its military presence in Iraq.

The sources said that Turkey is trying to exploit the relations that Fidan has had with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi when the latter was head of his country’s intelligence apparatus, to ensure its interests in Iraq, as Iraq is in the process of reorganising its economic priorities in partnership with the United States.

The sources revealed that the Iraqi government had refused to go public with the visit of the Turkish official to Baghdad, as it also expressed opposition to granting Ankara any guarantees regarding the continuation of economic relations between the two countries in their current form. Iraq imports annually from Turkey billions of dollars’ worth of goods but exports nothing to it. Moreover, several Turkish companies have managed to obtain annual contracts worth billions of dollars to implement projects within different Iraqi sectors, without contributing to the local Iraqi economy.

Informed sources said that the Turkish intelligence official conveyed his country’s concerns over the future of its trade with Iraq in view of Baghdad’s reform plans, as well as the fate of the Turkish companies doing extensive activities in the areas of construction, energy, furniture and heavy equipment inside Iraq.

Turkish political writer Cengiz Aktar said it was very likely that Fidan was received by Kadhimi. Aktar, a professor of political science at the University of Athens, told The Arab Weekly that Kadhimi and Fidan were professional counterparts and had collaborated with each other in certain cases, so it is very likely that the two have met in Baghdad.

Aktar stressed that the question of the presence of the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and the attempt by Iraqi Kurds to manage their affairs away from the influence of the Baghdad government, preoccupies Turkey as it determines the future of the relationship between Baghdad and Ankara.

He noted that today Turkey is no longer a player in Iraq; its involvement in Iraq is controlled by knee-jerk reactions to what happens there, especially in light of the decline of the influence of the Iraqi Sunni blocs receiving support from Ankara. This explains how the head of Turkish intelligence would find it useful to communicate with his former Iraqi counterpart, who now is the top executive official in Iraq, about these questions, at least in order to counter Kurdish influence in northern Iraq.

Genghis Aktar also linked the visit of the Turkish intelligence chief to Baghdad to the visit of the Syrian Kurdish general, Mazlum Kobani, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, to Iraq recently, after Ankara expressed its strong dissatisfaction with the Iraqi rapprochement with the Syrian Kurds.

The dialogue between Iraq and the United States took place on Thursday in an upbeat atmosphere in Baghdad, especially at the economic level. During the dialogue, the two countries expressed their awareness of “the enormous economic challenges facing Iraq in light of the two crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices, and on the need for Iraq to enact fundamental economic reforms.”

A joint statement by the two countries said that the United States discussed “providing economic advisors to work directly with the Government of Iraq to help advance international support for Iraq’s reform efforts, including from the international financial institutions in connection with firm plans to enact fundamental economic reforms.” It also said that “the two governments discussed the potential for investment projects involving world-class U.S. firms in the energy and other sectors, provided that business conditions are favourable.”

In the meantime, Baghdad and Washington agreed that “in light of significant progress towards eliminating the ISIS threat, over the coming months the U.S. would continue reducing forces from Iraq and discuss with the Government of Iraq the status of remaining forces as both countries turn their focus towards developing a bilateral security relationship based on strong mutual interests.” What is particularly noteworthy in this regard is that the United States “does not seek nor request permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq,” according to the statement.

Kadhimi indicated that his government took into consideration, during the dialogue with the United States, the Iraqi parliamentary decision issued earlier this year regarding the necessity of removing all foreign forces from the country.

Observers said that the fact that the United States did not specify the size of its reduction of troops in Iraq or its timetables means that this file will be left to the discretion of the military leaders of both countries, which confirms the high flexibility shown by Washington in dealing with the Kadhimi government.

Regarding political aspects, and always according to the joint statement on the US-Iraq strategic dialogue, “the United States of America expressed its solidarity with the Republic of Iraq, not only through close bilateral cooperation on the security and political levels, but also through its support for Iraq and the new Iraqi government.”

Both countries “reiterated the importance of assisting Iraq in implementing its governmental program and reforms in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the Iraqi people, including carrying out humanitarian efforts, restoring stability, rebuilding the country, and organising free, fair and credible elections.”

Furthermore, the United States, with its international partners, “emphasised its continued support for Iraq’s electoral preparations, efforts to strengthen rule of law, human rights, and the return and reintegration of displaced people, especially the smaller components of Iraqi society that were targeted for genocide by ISIS.”

With respect to cultural cooperation, both governments “discussed plans to return important political archives to the Government of Iraq and efforts to increase the capabilities of Iraqi universities. The two sides also discussed plans to return artefacts and the Baath Party archives to Iraq.”

Overall, the two sides “reaffirmed the importance of the strategic relationship and their determination to take appropriate steps to enhance it in the interest of both countries and to achieve security, stability, and prosperity in the region.” In this respect, the United States Government “welcomed the opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen its partnership with Iraq as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi begins his term in office.”

The joint statement ended by announcing that the US and Iraqi governments “look forward to in-depth discussions of the above issues at a Strategic Dialogue Higher Coordination Committee meeting in Washington, DC, likely in July.”

 

The article was first published in the Arab Weekly.