Preliminary preparations for the opening of the new border gate in Ovaköy, located in the Silopi district of the Şırnak province in southeastern Turkey as an alternative to the Habur border gate, have been completed. Turkey and the central government of Iraq have begun work to ensure the security and operations of the region are fully established.
The new border gate in Ovaköy will take its final shape when Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım visits Baghdad this weekend. A great volume of trade will be shifted from Habur to Ovaköy, and this will contribute to the prosperity of the Turkmen region.
From foes to friends: Northern Iraq's possible futures
Two weeks have passed since the controversial referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for the independence of the KRG-controlled areas in Iraq.While the referendum had been declared long ago, with the date set as Sept. 25 about three months before the ballot day, many parties within and out of Iraq hoped for a cancellation until the last minute.Global powers, from the United States to Russia, regional powers, such as Turkey, Iran, and of course the Baghdad government, all called on Masoud Barzani’s regional government in Erbil to cancel or postpone the referendum.Even such local actors as Gorran, the second-largest party of the closed Kurdistan parliament after Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the NRT network, the second-most influential Kurdistan media outlet after the KDP-controlled Rudaw, pointed out the legitimacy problems regarding the referendum call.- Three-fold legitimacy issueThe legitimacy problems were threefold. At the regional level, the legitimacy problem stemmed from the controversial extension of Masoud Barzani’s regional presidency twice after its expiration and the closure of the regional parliament in 2015.At the national level, the referendum included the disputed lands over which the KRG does not have de jure authority and it also lacked the necessary observation mechanisms for a fair count.And thirdly, at the international level, the legitimacy problem stemmed from the prospective absence of countries to recognize an independent Kurdistan -- with the exception of Israel -- on top of the vagueness of international law on the limits of national self-determination.Nevertheless, despite the expectations of numerous international and local actors, and despite the likelihood of negative national and international repercussions, Masoud Barzani did not back down on his referendum call.Once it became clear that there was no turning around, all the regional actors, including Gorran, united for a “yes” vote, which would otherwise cost any local Kurdish actor its popular basis and end its political presence in the region.In addition, the referendum united three sovereign states neighboring the KRG region: Turkey, Iran and the home Baghdad government, with all three condemning the KRG’s referendum efforts.- Toning down the tensionThe referendum took place under such circumstances but the real problems surfaced with the referendum.Simply put, it has reshaped the alliances not only within but also outside Iraq. Turkey and Iran, which were already coming closer in the process of Astana negotiations as they started to bridge their disagreements over Syria, stood with the Baghdad government and came closer and closer in an almost unprecedented way.Both countries have faced separatist terrorism which has a transnational character due to the instability and power vacuum in northern Iraq, plaguing some areas more than others.While the two countries had opposite views on many issues, from the future of Syria to the power distribution in Iraq, they are now learning to discover their common interests.Both Turkey and Iran seem to agree on two interrelated principles: Iraq should remain united and the region needs no further bloodshed.Their joint efforts with the Baghdad government led the Erbil administration to tone down its insistence on independence.For one, the KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani strongly emphasized  that the referendum has nothing to do with Turkey’s current borders, which runs against the popularly shared Kurdistan maps during the referendum process that showed parts of Turkey under the banner of Kurdistan.Barzani also stressed -- against his earlier implications -- that they have no intention to go to war but want to solve their problems with Baghdad through dialogue.And this is how the gates for dialogue became possible. The mounting tension, particularly during the referendum weekend, is now deescalating with the cautious and careful steps of the actors involved.The prominent Iraqi Shia scholar and political figure Ayatollah Ali Sistani, for example, called for dialogue, which was immediately welcomed  by the Erbil government.Furthermore, Iraqi Vice Presidents Ayad al-Allawi and Osama al-Nujaifi met  Masoud Barzani to discuss the lifting of the sanctions and setting a mechanism for a constant coordination.Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim  also stressed that Ankara cares about the mutual interests of Turkey and the Kurdish people of Iraqi Kurdistan.Finally, Iran has also sent signals of softening both in discourse and action, as symbolized by Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif’s attending to the funeral of Jalal Talabani, the prominent Kurdish politician and former president of Iraq, in Sulaimaniyah.- Four great risksThis rapprochement and the continuous positive signals from all the parties of the tension show that the dispute is probably in the phase of de-escalation, but there are still a number of risks involved.For one, the referendum is over and cannot and will not be revoked by the KRG. You simply cannot undo a referendum. It is done and gives great leverage to the KRG for a future unilateral declaration of independence whenever the circumstances turn favorable.In turn, the Ankara, Tehran, and Baghdad governments have jointly showed that a unilateral declaration of independence will come with its high costs and the KRG will have to face this unified front all alone.Second, the disputed territories, but especially the oil-rich Kirkuk, pose a great risk to the maintenance of peace and stability. Any future tension in the city has the potential to grow into a conflict that might quickly engulf the entire region.Third, Daesh’s easy gains in Iraq in the past, both in the KRG and central-government-controlled areas, on top of the endless disagreements over the share of oil revenues and the national budget, are just two examples of the vulnerability of Iraq due to the lack of cooperation and coordination between Erbil and Baghdad on a number of issues from defense to economy.Last but not least, the terrorist PKK controls the part of the territories that the KRG claims along the borders with Turkey and Iran. The PKK is the number one security threat to Turkey and is constantly sending terror squads into Turkey from its bases in Iraq. Its presence in the region not only produces terrorism within Turkey but also threatens to destabilize the Iraq Kurdistan Region and the neighboring areas further.- Dealing with the risksAll four of these problems, the last three of which date back to before the referendum, make the situation hard to solve but this crisis can still be turned into an opportunity.While all the parties know that the referendum cannot be undone, it is still a good start that Erbil will not go for immediate declaration of independence and will seek dialogue, which is now not optional but rather obligatory given the tough and joint stances of the Ankara, Tehran, and Baghdad administrations.Since it is now clear that a unilateral action will likely lead to a hot conflict, the referendum cannot be undone but might be frozen for the foreseeable future. Second, all the disputed lands and most importantly Kirkuk need a clear status. They can be shared between the KRG and Baghdad authorities.The most critical and most diverse locations such as Kirkuk can have a special status with a power sharing mechanism that will not exclude any significant local community.Third, Iraq’s incompetence to defend its Western territories against the Daesh offensive in 2014 shows the need for closer cooperation between the Baghdad forces and the KRG peshmerga and such a cooperation has the potential to spill over toward the economic realm.- No place in Iraq for PKK Finally, the PKK has no place in Iraq. It was once rooted out from Syria -- although it came back and is currently protected by international actors -- and now can be rooted out from Iraq.Any concrete action against the PKK would guarantee Turkey’s strongest support for the peaceful future of Iraq. The KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) has long allied with Turkey against the PKK, but obviously it lacks the muscle, will, or both, to put an end to the PKK’s presence in the region once and for all. Turkey, Iran, and Iraq together can and should root out the PKK in Iraq. This is an agenda, if not a roadmap, to bring long-lasting peace and prosperity to the region. Not an easy one to follow but the negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil have already started, the involved parties have already toned down their threats on top of Turkey and Iran’s further potential for a possible mediation process in the future with the support of their long-lasting economic and political ties, respectively, in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.The Syrian case once again showed that wars bring no good to the region and the last thing the region needs is a second Syria. A joint effort can reverse the process and open up possibilities for a lasting collective security and prosperity mechanism.
Barzani refused to hand over Habur to Baghdad
As the greatest economic strike against Barzani, the Iraqi central government has started to conduct investigations in its own territory for Ovaköy, the new border gate.
Parking areas for commercial trucks are being constructed on both sides of the gate. Security forces launched simultaneous moves on both sides of the border. Both the entrances and exits of Ovaköy are controlled by soldiers.
Turkey has referred to the Ovaköy border gate as a new trade hub with the Baghdad government, which received a negative response from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) when asked to transfer the Habur border gate to the central administration’s jurisdiction.
Baghdad responsible for ‘disputed’ parts of Iraq: PM
Baghdad is responsible for security in parts of Iraq “disputed” between Baghdad and Erbil, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday, going on to warn Kurdish Peshmerga forces against taking on federal government forces.“The central government is solely authorized to provide security in disputed areas [of Iraq],” al-Abadi said at a press conference in Baghdad.“I urge Peshmerga forces deployed in these areas to refrain from fighting federal government forces,” he added.According to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, Kurdish Peshmerga forces are answerable to the central government in Baghdad. On the ground, however, they take their orders from northern Iraq’s Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).Al-Abadi’s assertions come two weeks after an illegitimate Sept. 25 referendum that saw Iraqis in KRG-controlled-held areas -- and in areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- vote on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.According to poll results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.At Tuesday’s press conference, al-Abadi also said that any dialogue between Baghdad and the KRG would depend on the annulment of the poll results.“We will not hold any talks with KRG officials until the referendum results are overturned,” he asserted.The referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors -- including the U.S., Turkey and Iran -- who had warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s fight against terrorism and further destabilize the already-volatile region.In the two weeks since the referendum, Baghdad has taken several retaliatory measures against the KRG, including a ban on all international flights into the Kurdish region and the closure of foreign diplomatic missions based there.On Monday, Iraq’s Council of Ministers announced that legal procedures had been initiated against all KRG employees involved in organizing last month’s poll.Iraq bans gold imports via airports in KRGPM Yıldırım to visit BaghdadKRG's oil transfer via Turkey under spotlightTurkey can utilize strong position for KRG's energy
Investments required to form a commercial route
There is not enough infrastructure at Ovaköy yet to enable it becoming a commercial route. However, it is stated that if the negotiations with the Baghdad government go well, the border gate can be developed rapidly with mutual investments.
Ankara and Baghdad conducted inspections in the area
Inspections were conducted by Ankara and Baghdad in order to determine how long it would take to make Ovaköy active. Last week, the Iraqi Central Government examined the Iraqi side of Ovaköy. Following Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s visit, the matter will gain clarity.
Alternative border gates must be established
The possible intervention of Iraqi troops was among the possibilities for the capture of the Habur gate from the northern Iraqi administration. Such tensions also affect trade negatively. Turkey is engaged in more trade with Iraq at the Habur border gate than it is with Iran across five border gates.
Kurdish party to boycott Baghdad until sanctions lifted
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) announced Tuesday that KDP lawmakers would boycott parliamentary sessions in Baghdad until Iraq’s central government reversed all sanctions imposed on Erbil since last month’s illegitimate regional poll.Along with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KDP is a main coalition partner in northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) led by KDP chief Masoud Barzani.Speaking at a press conference in Erbil, the KRG’s administrative capital, Renas Cano, a KDP representative in Iraq’s parliament, complained that Baghdad had slapped Erbil with new sanctions “every day” since last month’s referendum.“If the Iraqi government insists on levying sanctions,” Cano said, “KDP lawmakers will refrain from visiting Baghdad to attend sessions of parliament.”On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-held areas -- and in several areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.According to results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.The referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who had warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s ongoing fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.In the two weeks since the referendum, Baghdad has taken several retaliatory steps against the KRG, including a ban on all international flights into the Kurdish region and the closure of foreign diplomatic missions based there.On Monday, Iraq’s Council of Ministers also announced that legal procedures had been initiated against all KRG employees involved in organizing the illegal poll.
Baghdad to make final decision
Aside from the KRG tension, Ovaköy is another border gate with Iraq that was long discussed in order to balance trade flow. The final details of the new border gate will be concluded during Yıldırım’s Baghdad visit.
The aim is not to punish the public
The closure of the Habur border gate came on the agenda following the illegitimate referendum held in northern Iraq on Sept. 25.
It was realized that if the only functioning border gate to Iraq was closed, the people living in the region and the Baghdad government would be punished and even Turkey's military troops in northern Iraq would suffer.
Following this, Turkey started to work on alternatives. The Ovaköy and Aktepe border gates that were discussed in 2013 resurfaced, and Turkey presented the Ovaköy gate possibility to the Baghdad administration.
Iraq bans gold imports via airports in KRG
The Iraqi authorities on Tuesday banned the import of gold and other precious metals through airports in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.In a statement, Iraq’s Planning Ministry announced that gold and other precious metals could henceforth only be imported into Iraq through the international airports in Baghdad and Najaf.Speaking to Anadolu Agency, ministry spokesman Abdul Zohra al-Hendawi said that gold and other metals had previously entered Iraq mainly through the Sulaymaniyah and Erbil international airports, both of which are located in the Kurdish region.PM Yıldırım to visit Baghdad“The ministry’s economic committee has decided that, from now on, only Iraq’s Baghdad and Najaf airports will be used for the import of gold and other precious metals,” al-Hendawi said.The decision, he added, was aimed at preventing the “illegal import” of gold into the country.The move comes as part of a raft of recent measures taken by Baghdad against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in response to last month’s illegitimate referendum on Kurdish regional independence.KRG's oil transfer via Turkey under spotlightOn Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-held areas -- and in several areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.According to results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.The illegitimate referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who had warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s ongoing fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.Along with other retaliatory measures, Iraq’s Council of Ministers on Monday announced that legal procedures were now underway against all KRG employees involved in holding last month’s illegitimate poll.In the referendum’s immediate aftermath, Baghdad also moved to ban all international flights into KRG-controlled areas and closed all foreign diplomatic missions based in the region.
PM Yıldırım to visit Baghdad
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım will make an official visit to Iraq’s Baghdad on the weekend. Yıldırım is expected to meet with his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi.The premier was invited to Iraq on Friday by the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara.Turkish and Iraqi troops are preparing for a possible operation in northern Iraq by taking part in drills simulating critical deployment measures in hostile areas, in addition to training against enemy attacks and ambushes.Turkish premier to visit IraqTurkey’s military drills were launched three kilometers away from the border in the southeastern Silopi region in the early hours of Sept. 18, a week before the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) non-binding independence referendum.Iraqi soldiers arrived in Turkey on Sept. 23 for joint military exercises due to be carried out the following day in Habur.On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-held areas -- and in several areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- voted on whether to declare independence from Iraq.
KRG's oil transfer via Turkey under spotlight
The government is considering the decision they will take on whether to continue the Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) oil transfer through Turkey, Turkey’s Energy Ministry Undersecretary Fatih Dönmez said on Tuesday.Speaking at the eighth Turkey Energy Summit, Dönmez said that although no decision has yet been taken on the KRG's oil exports following the illegal independence referendum on Sept. 25, the issue is currently on the agenda and is being examined."However, we will decide on our stance based on instructions from the [Turkish] government. As of today, there is no decision yet, although this does not mean that there will not be one," he asserted.The regional government, led by President Masoud Barzani, has enjoyed close ties with Ankara and had used a pipeline stretching from northern Iraq to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan to export oil, a mainstay of the KRG economy.However, the independence referendum -- held in KRG-controlled areas across northern Iraq, including those disputed with the central government in Baghdad -- has threatened this relationship.The KRG's net income from exports through the Ceyhan port amounted to almost $416 million in October 2016, according to the KRG's Ministry of Natural Resources Monthly Export and Production Report in 2016 - the ministry's latest monthly oil report released.The report showed that the KRG exported 19 million barrels of crude oil in total and an average of nearly 614 thousand barrels of oil per day in the month of October last year through the port of Ceyhan in Turkey.Eighth Turkey Energy SummitThe eighth Turkey Energy Summit is a two-day event currently running in Antalya, which has gathered over one thousand delegates both from Turkey and abroad. The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak will also speak at the summit tomorrow, Donmez said.Renewables will be a focal sector of the summit, Donmez said, stressing the importance of the two Renewable Energy Resources Zone Project (YEKA) tenders in Turkey."We had very good results at these tenders. In solar energy, for example, this year we will lay the foundations of a solar map of the country and we hope that the first solar panel will be laid in 2019. In the following years, we hope to open this station," he said.Kalyon Holdings together with the South Korean Hanwha Q-Cells consortium won the tender for Turkey's biggest solar power plant project - the Karapinar Renewable Energy Resources Zone Project, in Konya's Karapinar province in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey on March 20.The consortium is responsible for building a 500-megawatt solar panel production facility and a solar power plant with 1,000 megawatts of capacity."In wind, a total of one thousand megawatts of wind capacity will be constructed in five or six different locations. These turbines need to be 65 percent locally manufactured. Siemens has won this tender - a very strong company in its field," he asserted.The wind tender on Aug. 3 saw the submission of bids and attendance of the world's top wind turbine producers for Turkey's 1,000-megawatt wind project. A Siemens Gamesa - Turkerler - Kalyon consortium won the first 1,000-megawatt wind tender offered by YEKA."The company is currently preparing for production. We know that their work will not only help the local production sector to develop but also it will help local producers to become exporters of this technology to regional countries," he concluded.