Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government have not always shared good relations, however, recent years of flourishing trade between the two states have paved the way for their increase in cooperation, helping both nations to overcome years of hostility.
Since its establishment in 1992, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been the official ruling body of the predominantly Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. At the beginning of its existence, Turkey held a deep sense of unease at the potential impact of the KRG on the many Kurdish people’s quest of a sovereign Kurdish state. Turkey also feared the impact the KRG could have had on its own population of Kurds, and worried that its influence could lead to unrest within its own border.
By 2007, the principal concern in Ankara against the KRG was that it was concealing the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a military organization that has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey since 1984. Before the end of 2007, fighters for the separatist group had killed 13 Turkish soldiers in an attack close to the Turkish-Iraqi border, leading to the beginning of cross-border air and ground raids between the two states.
However, in 2009, in an effort to ease relations between Turkey and the KRG, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister at the time, began a round of diplomatic and high level visits between Turkey and the Kurdish state, eventually leading to the opening of a Turkish consulate in Erbil in 2010.
After the withdrawal of U.S. combats from Iraq at the end of 2011, a set of unresolved problems were left behind in the relationship between the KRG and the Federal Government in Baghdad – notably centring around disputed boundaries of the KRG, and the extent of its autonomy. Tensions between Baghdad and the KRG were further increased when significant quantities of oil and gas were found in the KRG area. Turkey, being uneasy with the increasingly sectarian and authoritarian Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, moved even closer to the KRG.
Turkey’s evolving relations with the KRG were predominantly seen in the increasing levels of trade between the two states. In March 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was then Prime Minister of Turkey, visited the Kurdish region, marking the first visit to the Kurdish state by a Turkish leader. By 2012, trade between Turkey and the KRG had seen an increase to 8.4 billion USD, and the KRG’s President, Masoud Barzani, was invited as an honoured guest at Turkey’s Justice and Development Party convention.
In late November of 2015, reports emerged that the KRG and Turkey had reached a strategic agreement over the delivery of natural gas by 2017, with the KRG’s Parliamentary Committee for Industry and Energy confirming that the natural gas resources of the KRG in northern Iraq are enough to meet the needs of both Turkey and Europe. Officials from Iraq’s KRG have also said that the government of Iraqi Kurdistan plans to export 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Turkey, and that by 2020, the supplies may be increased to 20 billion cubic meters.
In recent years, it seems as though Turkey’s old policy of keeping the KRG at a distance have disappeared, allowing cross-border trade and cooperation to flourish. Relations between the two states continue to strengthen with up to 80 percent of Turkish exports to Iraq being delivered to the KRG and tens of thousands of Turkey’s Kurdish citizens now working and establishing businesses in Iraqi Kurdistan.