US prevented alternative border gate between Turkey, Iraq

Former top foreign trade official Kürşad Tüzmen says the US prevented an alternative gate that was on the agenda between Baghdad and Ankara in 2000

Ersin Çelik
12:31 - 18/10/2017 بدھ
Update: 12:41 - 18/10/2017 بدھ
Yeni Şafak
Kürşad Tüzmen
Kürşad Tüzmen

Turkey started discussing an alternative to the Habur border gate with Iraq following the first Gulf War. In the early 2000s, Foreign Trade Undersecretary Kürşad Tüzmen discussed an alternative gate with the Saddam HUssein administration. However, while a plane was carrying the Turkish delegation travelling from Baghdad to Turkey, an Operation Provide Comfort plane that took off from the Incirlik Air Base shot children playing ball along the new trade route. It was a time when Turkey was struggling with an economic crisis. Following this incident, Prime Minister of the time Bülent Ecevit summoned Tüzmen and allegedly said, “America is requesting that we delay this.”

Tüzmen, who served for many years within the Ministry for Foreign Trade, confirmed these accounts. “There may have been details that I was not aware of,” said Tüzmen, who disclosed his critical evaluations to Yeni Şafak daily.

Truck queues of 20-30 kilometers at Habur

“We frequently experienced problems in the north [of Iraq] during that period. In fact, at one point, they asked for the passports of some people entering northern Iraq. At that time we entered Habur via roads and traveled from Zakho and Dohuk. We bought oil and offered Turkish export products. When I was the foreign trade undersecretary, we conducted meetings at the ministerial level within the framework of mutual agreements. I signed agreements as the undersecretary and Iraq’s ministers also signed those agreements. There would frequently be trucks queueing 20 to 30 kilometers and we would go there to resolve the issue. We saw that it wasn’t working, and that they were only going to make it more difficult. We knew that we had to bypass [northern Iraq] in some way,” said Tüzmen.

Northern Iraq seeking riches

“Both the central Iraqi government and Saddam wanted this. We held a meeting with the Iraqi minister of public works, interior minister and the minister of transport. We made a decision. We wanted to work more comfortably with Mosul and Baghdad by bypassing the northern district by making a bridge and a gate to cross Hezil Çayı through Syria. The Iraqi government approved this. In fact, the Iraqi public works minister prepared concrete blocks, all the operations were completed. The only thing left to do was convince Syria. There was about 40 kilometers of railway between al-Qamishli and Tal Afar. We were really going to use this. I went to Syria and they agreed too, we prepared everything. But everyone did everything they could to prevent it. Unfortunately, we could not get it up and running. We experienced great foreign pressure. They wanted the trade route to pass through the north [of Iraq], for the north to become wealthy and for these riches to be distributed to those who fund the north. There were many groups who provided funds,” Tüzmen added.

Turkey has five border gates with Iran and one with Iraq, which is now being regarded as a grave mistake. Ankara is trying to bring the Ovaköy border gate to life by taking a much delayed strategic step. The reason why an alternative line to Habur is now clear.

Alternative border gate plans halted as US bombed Iraq

“Then I became a minister and went to Iraq again with the same project. I first met with Taha Yassin Ramadan, and then with Saddam Hussein. I was the last minister and politician to meet with Saddam. We spoke about everything during that meeting. The groundwork was prepared. We were going to do it through the same route, through Hezil Çayı. I went in January 2003. Abdullah Gül was the Turkish prime minister and Mr. Erdoğan was the party leader. I was very proactive, and we boosted Turkey and Iraq’s trade volume, which had fallen to $50 million, to $5 billion. We had Eximbank, customs, foreign trade and as a powerful minister, we signed all kinds of agreements with our Iraqi counterparts. Just as we were about to get the job done, in March 2003, the U.S. started bombing [Iraq]. During my visit, Saddam Hussein had told me: ‘No matter what you do, they are going to strike us. I do not have weapons of mass destruction. At least express this, and find an honorable solution.’ We have finally come to those days,” said Tüzmen.

#Kürşad Tüzmen
#Saddam Hussein
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