By Furkan Torlak , World Bulletin
Coming to Turkey for the Iraq-Syria security meeting and the Turkey-Iraq Strategic Cooperation Council, Iraq Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari gave an interview on Ramadan Eid. While evaluating the Turkey-Iraq High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, Zebari made some important observations regarding both relations between the two countries and the region.
Mr. Minister, first I would like to thank you for this interview. I want to start my questions with the Turkey-Iraq High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council. What does this council mean for Iraq? We know that countries in the region have formed different camps. With this latest step are you thinking to make a new opening towards Europe and to distance yourself from regional tension?
First of all, this must be understood very well. We are not a part of any camp. Together with this, it is necessary to make our interests more influential at the Strategic Cooperation Council. For there are strong relations between Turkey and us based on political, cultural, social, business, water and geographical issues. We are neighbors and we have to live together, so we should be affecting each other positively. The importance of this council is that it will establish common long-term economic partnership between Turkey and us.
We have resources and raw materials in our hands. Turkey has experience, technology, man-power, etc. We believe that there is a positive future in front of this council. Next month in his Baghdad visit Prime Minister Erdoğan will take some practical steps towards making effective the agreement and protocols we have signed this time. As is known, we signed more than forty agreements and protocols in just two days on the issues of security, war against terror, water, construction/repair work, trade, agriculture, health, petroleum, gas and transportation.
Ok, what does this mean regionally? Can there be a third alternative based on mutual communication, dialogue and reconciliation and thus we can be saved from conflict and polarization?
Of course, of course. At any rate, we are not in a position to join camps. Also, we are members of the Arab Union and the Islamic Conference. Iraq is developing positive relations with its neighbors Turkey, Iran and Arab countries. With this council we want to benefit as much as possible from the economic interests that brought us together with Turkey, not create new polarization.
At this moment Turkey is Iraq's biggest trade partner. The volume of trade between the two countries reached 7 billion dollars. In the coming years we want this to reach 20 billion dollars. Of course, this will not happen without some processes, restructuring and making our economic partnership more effective.
There was a water problem and you are returning to your country with good news. Turkey increased the flow of water to Iraq via the Euphrates River. What is the final point you have arrived at on the subject of water?
Yes, there was a problem with water. In general there is drought in the region. In Iraq, in particular, there is a water crisis. For this reason, the common attitude in talks of the Iraqi delegation of ministers focuses on resolving the water problem. From Turkey's perspective the most important problem was security. At present in Iraq the water issue concerns us more than many other problems.
For this reason, we wanted Turkey to understand this and to help us by leaving water in the dams in a way that more will reach Iraq. We wanted them to increase it even if in a small amount and we agreed on the measurement of 550 m2 per second. We think that this will be enough to solve the drinking water problem now for Iraqi farmers, citizens and team requirements. The Turkish side really acted with great sacrifice in fulfilling the request of the Iraqi side.
You said in your press conference that you talked with Turkey about security and the war on terrorism. Can you inform us about the talks on these subjects?
Two protocols were signed as a result of talks with Turkey on the issue of security. Our Minister of the Interior and our Minister of National Security spoke with the Turkish Minister of the Interior on these subjects. As you know, there is a Turkish-Iraqi-American tri-mechanism that was set up earlier on this subject, and within the framework of this mechanism precautions taken against terrorists and armed groups were discussed.
Again there is an agreement on this issue between the ministers of the interior of these two countries. Of course, some practical steps have to be taken. Presently the three-party mechanism has an office in Erbil. This office works only on this matter and fulfills the task of coordination. Yes, we talked in detail on this issue.
Of course, we should not forget that a part of the problem is here in Turkey. For this reason, as the Iraq government we responded very positively to the Turkish government's new democratic initiative and reforms. I think these developments will allow for the diminution or elimination of Turkey's security threat.
As you mentioned, recently Turkey is talking about its democratic opening. There are those who support it and those who oppose it. However, one point of speculation is whether some political and administrative arrangements of this democratic initiative are being made between Turkey and Iraq, particularly in Northern Iraq.
Yes, as you said, a part of the problem is in Iraq. The Iraqi government and the regional administration are aware of the problem and will support and cooperate with Turkey as much as possible. Iraq will do what it can to enable this democratic initiative and reforms to be successful. These people should be won over to Turkish society. We strongly support this process and we think it will bring a solution.
You mentioned Turkey's investments in Iraq and the trade volume. This large a trade is taking place, but there is just one border gate. It was said in the press conference that new gates would be opened. When and where will these gates open?
We have supported the opening of these gates from the beginning. We talked about this matter when current President Abdullah Gül was Minister of Foreign Affairs. A number of years have passed since then. I was in Ankara and we had almost come to agreement with Minister of Foreign Affairs Gül. There was consensus about opening a second gate, but its location was under debate. Turkey recommended one place and we recommended another; neither side was willing to compromise...
What would have happened if you had opened both?
Yes, that is correct. Both could have been opened. We said, let's start from here and open the other a year later. There was a lot of support for us. However, I guess that the matter was handled rather slowly.
Where were these regions?
The recommendation of our experts and technological teams was the Şinava gate. They had a different idea, the Avakoi gate. (Both gates are in the Zaho area.) There was a distance of a few kilometers between the regions of the two suggested gates. We came to the point of saying let's begin with Şinava and continue with Avakoi, but that did not happen.
Well, what is the situation now?
Talks are being held now about the issue of a new gate. From our angle we are approaching the matter very positively.
I would like to change the subject. From its own perspective, Turkey had done everything possible to reduce the tension between Syria and Iraq. According to what I heard, there has been an agreement to not exaggerate the matter in the media and to follow up the process by means of foreign affairs ministers. How are you going to resolve the problem?
The first meeting was held in Cairo under the auspices of Turkey and the Arab Union General Secretariat. The second was the same. In addition, there was a security meeting in Ankara by means of the mediation of Turkey. We find Turkey's efforts to help us positive. The talks were also positive. In other words, views were mutually expressed. Parties presented their views on the crisis and recommended solutions. We hope that –even if we do not get a direct result- our demands have been clarified.
Again, a meeting is expected to take place next week in New York. There we will evaluate the results of the Istanbul meeting. For this reason, I think that Turkey's role is beneficial, important and facilitating. However, after a certain point the mediator should have a perspective. If both parties insist on their positions, the mediator should present a way out. It cannot remain impartial forever. This is what we want from Turkey now.
Finally, ı would like to ask this. Turkey began to increase its influence in the region with the AK Party coming to power and, in particular, with the efforts of Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu. In Turkey there are those who criticize this situation and who fear that our alliance with the West will suffer. How do you personally see this new period and what do you make of it?
I find Davutoğlu's efforts very important and positive. Turkey is beginning to advance its true mission in the region. Yes, Turkey can have a proclivity towards Europe. This is an historical fact, but, on the other hand, Turkey is a part of this world, the Middle East, the Islamic World, and maybe the area called the Third World. Isn't that true? Consequently, it has a positive contribution to processes directed towards Arab countries and the region. This development is encouraging and we support it.