Although Turkey and Iraq have not always been able to maintain stable relations, their status as neighbouring countries that share certain levels of interdependence has coerced them into developing a mutually beneficial partnership.
During the 1990s, Iraq was a quickly modernising country and among some of Turkey’s leading trade partners. However, in 2003 Iraq was confronted with a United States led invasion and overwhelming sanctions put in place by the United Nations. This led to a shift in Iraq’s balance of power and caused the country to transform from a unified state into a sectarian and divided nation – generating devastating consequences for the order of the region.
Due to the increasing divides in Iraq, and amplifying levels of Iraqi Kurdistan separatism on Turkey’s border, it became critical for Turkey to establish clear cooperation tactics with Iraq in order to moderate Kurdish aspirations for self-government.
Turkey’s interest in a stable Iraq and rejection of an independent Kurdish State is primarily caused by the fact that Kurdish independence would lead to internal unrest among the Turkish Kurdistan population and instability along borders. Thus, causing the restoration of security and stability in Iraq to become a high priority in Turkish foreign policy.
In order to help maintain stability in the region, Turkey has become more active in Iraqi affairs. Turkey’s involvement in the region lies in spheres relating to trade and investment, while maintaining close communication with influential Iraqi political actors is also an important objective for Turkey.
However, Turkey’s aims towards upholding good relations with Iraq have at times been challenged by obstacles. In regards to maintaining oil cooperation within the region, things have proven especially problematic for Turkey. In July, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports crude oil from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to Turkey, was shut down due to a sabotage attack led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Worries also stem from concerns that Turkey continuing to use oil in Kirkuk as one of its main sources of energy will encourage the Kurdistan Regional Government to seek greater autonomy.
There have also been troubles that stem from the fact that the Iraqi government has not always seen Turkey’s influence in the nation as being beneficial. Although there was the establishment of the ‘High Level Strategic Cooperation Council’ with Iraq in 2008, Turkey’s growing involvement in the region led former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to grow suspicious and eventually label Turkey an “enemy state”.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by saying that al-Maliki lacked an understanding of democracy and was encouraging sectarianism in Iraq, which led to ambassadors being summoned in both capitals. Following the incident, Turkish firms operating in Iraq faced difficulty due to licences being revoked and Turkish goods and commodities being banned in Southern provinces of the country.
However, despite some setbacks in Turkey’s attempts to increase the strength in relations it shares with Iraq, since Haider al-Abadi’s government took over in 2014, Ankara-Baghdad relations have entered into a phase of rapid restoration. Iraq now perceives Turkey as an essential political power that can be a useful ally in the rebuilding of its economy, while Turkey views maintaining stability in Iraq as being crucial to its own.