ARBIL, Kurdistan (Combined Sources)— Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed the importance of ties with Iraq, which he termed Ankara’s gateway to the Gulf, on a historic visit to Iraqi Kurdistan on Friday where he boldly signaled Turkey’s intentions to “rebuild the Middle East.”
“It is time for Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis to rebuild the Middle East. Therefore, it is time for everyone to take brave steps,” Davutoglu told a joint press conference with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani late on Friday.
Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan autonomous region of northern Iraq, meanwhile, praised Turkey for its “courageous” efforts to end its conflict with Turkish Kurdish rebels with rear bases in his region.
“Iraq as a multi-ethnic state is very important for us and any security threat to Iraq, we consider it a threat to us,” Davutoglu told reporters in a joint press conference with Barzani in Arbil, the region’s capital.
Davutoglu said the deepening friendship with Iraq will help both countries. “Turkey is becoming Iraq’s door to Europe, and Iraq is becoming Turkey’s door to the Gulf region,” he said. “Let’s not allow anyone to harm this brotherhood.”
“The mountains will not separate us, they will unite us. Then the Middle East region will be one of the top centers of attraction in the world.”
Davutoglu’s visit, the first by a Turkish minister to Kurdistan, is a sign of improving ties between Baghdad and Ankara and comes as Turkey seeks to end a 25-year conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) across its southern border.
“We felt at home here,” Davutoglu told reporters, reiterating that Turkey was soon to open a consulate in Arbil. “Barzani’s friendship with Turkey goes back a long time,” he added, praising Barzani as a “foresighted leader.”
Barzani, meanwhile, gave his backing to efforts by Turkey to end its war with the PKK. “The role of Turkey is very important for the future of the region and the development of economic relations,” Barzani said.
Davutoglu also said Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds were seeing eye-to-eye on how the future of the Middle East should be shaped. “We have a common vision, and this vision is about the way we look at the Middle East.” This vision, he continued, allows a shared stance on security, political dialogue among regional actors and the peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious groups. “Let’s rebuild the entire region. Let people travel from Basra [in southern Iraq] to Edirne [in northwestern Turkey] without any security concerns.”
Turkey and Iraq signed 48 agreements on strategic cooperation earlier this month in Baghdad. Davutoglu’s visit to Iraq on Friday was a follow-up to the signing of these agreements, with Davutoglu and Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan, who accompanied him, exploring possibilities on the implementation of the deals.
The two men and a delegation of around 70 officials and businessmen were received at Arbil airport by Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Saleh and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, an AFP journalist said.
Earlier on Friday, the group had been in the southern port city of Basra for the opening of a new Turkish consulate. Turkey already has an embassy in Baghdad and a consulate in the northern city of Mosul, with a consulate soon to be opened in Arbil.
The delegation will move on to Mosul on Saturday.
Their visit follows one by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month.
Turkish-Iraqi ties have gathered steam since they formed a joint committee with the United States last November to combat the PKK. It meets every two months to exchange intelligence and coordinate security measures against the rebels.
Since it first came to power in 2002, the Turkish government led by the AK party has pursued a policy of “zero problems with neighbors”. It recently scrapped visa requirements with Syria, agreed to open two more border gates with Iraq and announced an agreement with Iran to jointly explore gas in the Southern Pars fields. Many analysts point to Turkey’s renewed drive in regional affairs as an attempt by Ankara to reassert its Ottoman era influence and power.