Hakan Fidan’s Meeting with Turkmens
Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Iraq on August 22-24. During his visit, Fidan met with current government officials in Baghdad and Erbil. President Abdullatif Rashid, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Badr Organization Leader Hadi al-Amiri, National Wisdom Movement Leader Ammar al-Hakim, State of Law Coalition and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi, Azm Coalition leader Khamis Khanjar, Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet al-Abbasi, and Hashd al-Shaabi Commission Head Faleh Fayyad are among these figures that he met with.
In addition to bilateral relations between Iraq and Türkiye, the presence of the terrorist organization PKK, the resumption of oil shipments suspended since March 2023 due to the dispute between Baghdad and Erbil governments over the sale of Iraqi oil to international markets through Türkiye, the Development Road Project, increasing the trade volume between the two countries, and the water issue were among the important topics in the talks.
Agenda of the Talks with Turkmens
Turkmens were also included in the program of Fidan's first visit to Iraq as Foreign Minister. During his visit to Baghdad, Fidan met with Turkmens, one of the founding elements of Iraq, at the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad. During his visit to Erbil, he met with the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) at its Erbil Office. The Turkmen delegation included members of the Political Bureau of the ITF, heads of Turkmen political parties in the United Iraqi Turkmen Front Coalition, and opinion leaders of the Turkmen community.
During his meeting with Turkmens, Fidan said, "Türkiye considers Iraqi Turkmens as one of the most important bridges between Türkiye and Iraq. In addition, the Republic of Türkiye has been systematically and persistently working for the political and economic rights of our Turkmen brothers and sisters in order to eliminate the discrimination and injustice they suffer from." Fidan had also held official meetings with Turkmens in Erbil when he was the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). Fidan's meeting with Turkmens reveals the importance of Iraqi Turkmens in Iraq-Türkiye relations. On the other hand, it shows that Türkiye’s political support to the Turkmen community will continue.
Speaking on behalf of Turkmens during the talks, ITF Chairman Hasan Turan said: "This is an important visit for Iraq and the Turkmen community. We hope that this visit will be instrumental in strengthening relations between Türkiye and Iraq. Türkiye and you have always been with us. The problems facing Turkmens are great. We are sure that you will contribute to the elimination of these problems to some extent with this visit. Turkmens are a community that can best bridge the relations between the two countries to a higher level and mediate in solving the problems with their historical and cultural ties." During his speeches, Turan mentioned the mobilization of Turkmens to achieve the desired goals in the provincial council elections in Iraq, which are scheduled to be held in December.
Fidan stated that Turkmens are by no means a source of instability; they are not involved in terrorism or the disintegration of Iraq, and act very responsibly in Iraqi politics. He also mentioned that Türkiye would support the efforts for stability and territorial integrity in Iraqi politics. In addition, during his meeting with Turkmen representatives, Fidan is likely to have made contacts with Iraqi authorities to remove administrative obstacles and facilitate the return of Turkmen who were displaced as a result of DAESH attacks.
Representation of Turkmens in Iraqi Politics
Fidan's meetings with political actors from all layers of Iraq are important not only in terms of relations between the two countries but also for the representation of Turkmens, who have been systematically excluded from government and decision-making in Iraqi politics since its founding. Fidan's meeting with Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri and Faleh Fayyad may have a different meaning for Turkmens. The Badr Organization has the potential to receive Turkmen votes and send Turkmen deputies to the parliament. Therefore, it would be possible for the Badr Organization and the ITF to work out a joint strategy for the benefit of Turkmens in the Kirkuk provincial council elections and to reach an agreement for assigning the governor post in Kirkuk to Turkmens after the elections. Indeed, during Fidan's meeting with al-Amiri, Muhammad Bayati, the Northern Regional Officer of the Badr Organization and the Turkmen representative of the government of Haider al-Abadi, former Iraqi Prime Minister, were also present. The presence of Bayati during Fidan's meeting with Amiri may support this thesis.
Likewise, it is likely that during Fidan's meeting with Fayyad, the two sides discussed affiliating the Turkmen Hashd and Kirkuk Defense Force, which were formed to protect Turkmen -populated areas against possible terrorist acts, with the Hashd al-Shaabi and providing it with equipment and funds. These issues will provide Turkmens with military power and more influence on Iraqi politics if they become realities. Therefore, it is likely that Turkmens will play a decisive role in Iraqi politics rather than acting as a bridge between Iraq and Türkiye. Turkmen regions were targeted by the terrorist organization DAESH for a long time. Although these threats have been partially eliminated, it would not be wrong to say that they linger on.
The role of Turkmens in Türkiye-Iraq relations
Fidan's meeting with Turkmens in Iraq showed the importance of the Turkmen community in Iraq in Türkiye-Iraq relations. Since the establishment of Iraq, Turkmens have emerged as a softening element in Türkiye-Iraq relations. This was clearly demonstrated when Iraq's former Prime Minister Mustafa al- Kadhimi assigned a Turkmen minister to his cabinet one day before his visit to Ankara in 2021, and the Turkmen minister joined the subsequent visit to Ankara. Likewise, during his visit to Ankara in February 2023, Sudani, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, included ITF President Turan and Kirkuk Turkmen MP of the Badr Organization in his delegation. Sudani's move was also well received by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In conclusion, Fidan's meeting with the representatives of the Turkmen community may lift the morale and motivation of the Turkmens, thereby increasing their election turnout rate in the provincial council elections that are scheduled to be held in December. In addition, Fidan's visit may also help eliminate the problems between the former ITF Chairman and Kirkuk MP Erşat Salihi and the incumbent Chairman Hasan Turan. They were seen sitting side by side during the meetings, despite their longstanding disagreements and internal conflict. In this respect, the elimination of the problems between the two leaders will contribute to the unification of the divisions in the social base of the Turkmen community and thus to their joint action in solving many problems for the benefit of the Turkmen community, including the upcoming provincial council elections.
This article was published on Anadolu Ajansı on 26 August, 2023, under the heading “Görüş – Irak ziyaretinde Türkmen gündemi”.