The leader of the semi autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region government is to visit Ankara on Wednesday. The Iraqi Kurds have developed close political and trade ties with Ankara and both share strained relations with Baghdad.
In what is widely seen as a sign of the importance Ankara attaches to Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, he is due to be hosted Wednesday by the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Barzani’s visit coincides with Baghdad demanding Ankara’s withdrawal of recently deployed Turkish soldiers and tanks in Iraq.
The former head of Turkey’s consul to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Aydin Selcen, said the visit was further evidence of Barzani’s support of Ankara against Baghdad.
“Without his consent this would not be possible anyway, and the way that he is coming to Ankara right after this move also it shows us that he is not unhappy with it,” said Selcen.
Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party have developed close ties with Erdogan and his ruling AKP. The Iraqi Kurdish region has become one of Turkey’s most important trading partners, particularly in energy.
Military analysts and commentator Metehan Demir said Wednesday’s meeting would see both sides having demands on each other.
“Turkey will ask for an effective, a more sincere, effort to fight against PKK, and Barzani will ask Turkey to support him more and more on regional issues against the Iraqi government,” said Demir.
Barzani and his host share frosty relations with Baghdad, and he is expected to be looking for further financial support from Ankara to help his beleaguered economy, which is suffering from an ongoing dispute about sharing oil revenues with the Iraqi government.
Barzani is also expected to press Ankara to restart the peace process with the Kurdish rebel group the PKK. Former Turkish diplomat Selcen said Barzani’s priority now was fighting IS militants.
“Barzani is very keen on not getting into any kind of armed conflict with any other Kurdish formation. Especially when PKK was so active pushing back IS in Syria, and when they get under so much pressure from Turkey. Any open move against PKK by KDP I do not believe will go down well with public opinion in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he said.
Observers say public opinion is important with Barzani working to repair deep divisions over his rule within the Iraqi Kurdish region, the platform of uniting to fight the Islamic state will likely help facilitate that process.