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Do Turkey and Baghdad plan to seize KRG territory?

By DAVID ROMANO 27/8/2018
In the Turkish press of late, talk of opening a second border crossing to Iraq – one which bypasses Iraqi Kurdistan – has reemerged. In media outlets controlled by or close to the Turkish government (which is more than 90 percent of newspapers in Turkey these days), article after article discusses the proposed new border crossing. 

Yeni Safak on August 14 reported that delegations from Baghdad and Ankara would meet for talks on the issue “in the next few weeks,” adding “The planned Ovakoy Border Gate will directly link Turkey to Baghdad via a 570-kilometer (354-mile) highway.” 

Hurriyet newspaper, citing Anadolu, also mentions imminent plans to make the new border crossing a reality. “Turkish and Iraqi officials announced plans on August 7 to conduct a joint feasibility study in advance of opening a new border crossing point named Ovaköy between the two neighbors. In a statement, Qazim al-Akabi, head of Iraq’s committee for border crossings, said he had recently met with Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yıldız to discuss the proposal. According to al-Akabi, the two sides have agreed to dispatch technical experts to the border region sometime next month to conduct a feasibility study,” it said.

As they did in October 2017, around the time of the referendum on Kurdistani independence, Baghdad and Turkey are once again discussing bypassing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with a new border crossing. Readers may recall such headlines in Turkish media at that time as “Turkey’s next step to foil Barzani’s plans: Ovaköy border gate” (from Yeni Safak on October 17, 2017). 

Absent from the whole discussion is one inconvenient fact – Turkey has no border with Iraq other than areas within the recognized boundaries of the autonomous Kurdistan Region. 

That is the uncontestable reality. The Iraqi constitution of 2005 recognized the Kurdistan Region as consisting of all the territories under autonomous Kurdish rule prior to 2003. That includes the entirety of the land border with Turkey. 

So how do Turkish and Baghdadi officials believe they can get around geographic reality? Four possibilities seem to exist. 

First, Baghdad and Ankara could convince KRG leaders to relinquish control of some of their territory. That does not sound likely – the leadership in Erbil is well aware of its geographic leverage over Baghdad, which would dearly like to export Kirkuk’s 300,000 barrels per day of oil without making any concessions to the Kurds. 

Second, the KRG could be made a party to the opening of a second border crossing to relieve traffic at the busy Ibrahim Khalil / Habur crossing near Zakho. The Kurds would favor such an initiative, but such a route would do little to further what appears to be a Turkish-Baghdad plan to bypass Kurdistan. 

Given that no KRG officials have been invited to any of these “technical talks” on opening a new border crossing, this does not seem to be the plan in either Ankara or Baghdad. When there were murmurs of such a plan in October of 2017, Peshmerga Secretary-General Jabar Yawar made the KRG position clear: “No border crossing could open in the Kurdistan Region without the official approval of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).”

Third, Turkey could seize territory in northeastern Syria (Rojava), allowing trade to go from Turkey’s border with Syria’s most northeastern tip and then into Iraq south of KRG-controlled territory. This would be fraught with complications, however, including breaches of international law, a lack of infrastructure in that area, hostile Syrian Kurdish forces, the presence of American troops backing those Syrian Kurds, and the Assad regime’s objections to such a scenario. In short, this third option seems quite impossible.

All of which leaves a fourth option for a new border crossing that bypasses the KRG – the forcible seizure of a sliver of the Kurdistan Region’s land just west of the current border gate, around the town of Ovakoy. Baghdad and Iran’s Shiite paramilitias tried to do just that in October 2017, but suffered heavy casualties from fierce Peshmerga resistance and were pushed back (it helped in this case that the Peshmerga’s leadership did not order them to withdraw). 

One must therefore wonder if there is a new plan for Baghdad to move against the Kurds militarily. Either the Turks have been made aware of this plan or Ankara suffers from serious mental geography handicaps regarding the prospects of reaching Iraq directly.

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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pre-Boomer Marine brat | 27/8/2018
Common sense says that both Erdogan and the Tehran regime (which is now Baghdad's godfather) would be ever so pleased to run a 1939 "Poland" scenario on the KRG.
Pete | 27/8/2018
Yes, Turkey wishes to annex KRG. How many more bases and MIT offices should Turkey open in KRG before you wake up to reality? Turkey already owns the KRG's natural gas futures, this is the logical next step.
Kalin | 27/8/2018
Don't think the KDP are so dumb as to agree to that or allow something like that to happen, if they do they litrarly loose ALL leverage against Turkey and Baghdad. It will only be a matter of when Turkey and Baghdad will strangle them, not if.
Jessy | 27/8/2018
The real question will be is Turkey willing to loose KRG permanently to do business with Baghdad? After all more than half the Turkish exports go to KRG. Not only that but the Turks will most likely loose their foothold in KRG if KDP turns hostile on them. And there's no guarantee that Turkish and Iraqi forces can pull it off, it is a difficult terrain and even if Peshmerga loose that strip they can make it impossible for Turkish and Iraqi pipeline or truck to travel safely
Will | 27/8/2018
Yes I think Turkey, Iran and their two sidekicks Iraq & Syria, have made a secret deal to destroy kurds. This time it will happen slowly, first they took kerkuk, then afrin now more territory from iraqi Kurds and it goes on until nothing is left. Kurds better wake up and smell the coffee
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