Iraq–Turkey relations

Iraqi-Turkish relations are foreign relations between Iraq and Turkey. Relations between the two countries have undergone both times of closeness and of strained turbulence.

Turkey has an embassy in Baghdad and a Consulate General in Mosul, while Iraq has an embassy in Ankara and Istanbul.


Since the early twentieth century, when both Turkey and Iraq achieved independence in the aftermath of World War I, relations between the two states have been pragmatic. Given an overlapping history, complementary concerns, and sometimes conflicting values, Turkey-Iraq relations have been defined and informed by a relatively limited number of issues, each varying in significance. Some of the most important issues relate to Western interests.

Pre–World War I Relations

Prior to World War I, neither Turkey nor Iraq existed as independent states. The Ottoman empire, ruled by the Anatolian Turks, included the Arabic province of Iraq, which had been incorporated into the empire by the Ottomans in 1534. For the following four hundred years, the Turkish sultan was both the political and spiritual ruler of the province of Iraq. Periodic attempts at rebellion in the Iraqi province failed, but over time, the slow demise of the Ottoman empire allowed Iraq greater freedom in its own affairs. World War I found the Ottomans on the side of the Germans, presenting the Western Allies with an opportunity to weaken the empire further and establish greater influence in the Middle East by supporting Arab nationalism through promises of independence. With British backing, the Arabs rebelled against the collapsing Ottoman empire, and the Middle East, Iraq included, achieved nominal independence.

Relations from World War I to the Persian Gulf War

By 1923, Turkey had also consolidated its independence, expelling foreign powers from its vastly reduced territory, but maintaining positive relations with Western states for trade and developmental purposes. In Iraq, the League of Nations Mandate of 1920 gave control of the Iraqi province to the British, to the disappointment of Iraqi nationalists. From 1920 until Iraq achieved full independence in 1932, Iraqi relations with its former Turkish rulers were guided by the British and dealt primarily with British trade interests. Two main concerns existed for the British at this time, each economic in nature and giving substantial benefits to both Turkey and Iraq. The first was the construction of a transcontinental railroad bypassing the African trade route and linking British-held Kuwait to Europe. The second was the development of the Kirkuk oil fields, discovered in northern Iraq in 1927, and the shipment of its oil to Turkey's Iskenderun Gulf.

During the 1930s, Turkey-Iraq relations were at their most cordial, with both the Hashemite King Ghazi (1912–1939) of Iraq and Kemal Ataturk (1881–1938), the founder of the modern Turkish state and its leader since 1923, continuing to maintain close relations with the British. Although there was some conflict over border issues and resource questions, the relations of both states remained relatively stable, limited, and oriented toward the West.

From the late 1930s, after the deaths of both Ataturk and Ghazi, to the 1970s, Turkey and Iraq each suffered a series of military coups alternating with democratically elected governments with strong military elements. Relations between the two states focused on issues that remained significant for the rest of the twentieth century, transcending whatever regime happened to be in power, and institutionalizing the pragmatism of their ties.

The 1940s saw differences emerging in Turkey-Iraq foreign relations, with Iraq shifting support away from Europe. Iraq took part in the first Arab-Israeli war (1948) and, in the early 1950s, examined the possibility of a union between itself and Syria. Turkey opted to look in the other direction, supporting the Western states and, after its ascension to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952, placing itself firmly in the sphere of Western influence. Different foci in their extended foreign relations, however, did not preclude Iraq and Turkey from cooperating in common areas of interest. In 1955, both countries joined with Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom to form the Baghdad Pact, a mutual-defense organization intended to contain the growth of Soviet influence in the region. This experiment ended when Iraq, after alienating many of its Arabic neighbors by joining the pact, found itself with a new military government and withdrew from the agreement.

The historically sensitive issue of water rights became a strong point of contention for the two countries beginning in the 1960s, when Turkey implemented a massive public-works project aimed at harvesting the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through the construction of a series of dams, for irrigation and hydroelectric energy purposes. The intended level of control of common water resources by Turkey upon completion of the GAP project was unacceptable to Iraq, which remains dependent upon both rivers to supply a significant portion of its water needs.

First raised in the 1920s, the Kurdish question became a prominent concern of both Iraq and Turkey with the radicalization of a Kurdish independence movement and the formation of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the 1970s. Operating primarily out of Turkey, the PKK's revolutionary activity was aimed at the establishment of a Kurdish state in Turkey's southeast. For Iraq, the situation was less volatile, as divisions among the Kurds in northern Iraq prevented any real challenge to Baghdad's rule. However, as the Kurdish issue was a cross-border concern, it took center stage in Turkish-Iraqi relations during the 1970s and the 1980s.

The establishment of military-backed regimes in Turkey and Iraq by 1980 helped strengthen relations on several core issues, as both governments supported secularist and antiradical policies, stable borders, and closer ties with the West—needed by Iraq for its conflict with Iran and by Turkey in its desire to join the European Union. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, under the orders of former President Saddam Hussein, reversed this decades-long trend as Turkey again chose to support the West.

Post–Persian Gulf War Relations

The pragmatism of Turkish-Iraqi relations is most evident in the post–Persian Gulf War era. While Turkey gained international praise for siding against Iraq and allowing United Nations forces to fly missions from its air bases, this favor did not compensate the country for the massive disruption of the Turkish economy resulting from the imposed U.N. sanctions. From 1991 until 2001, estimates of Turkey's economic losses ran between $30 billion and $40 billion. As Turkey's economy steadily declined in the 1990s, the government turned a blind eye toward increased trade between its southeastern provinces and Iraq. Oil and agricultural products were actively traded between the two states in explicit violation of the U.N. sanctions. By 2000, the Turkish government had even gone so far as to tax the illegal tanker trade in oil.

Iraq, often ignored Turkey's close ties with the United States, out of the desire to maintain relations with the country that, since the 1930s, had been one of Iraq's most significant trading partners and remained one of the few outlets for Iraqi goods. Iraq also generally ignored the periodic incursions into its territory by Turkish forces pursuing PKK groups, a continuing threat to Turkey, but mostly harmless to Iraq, as Kurdish factions remained disunited.

While foreign relations diverged after the Persian Gulf War, Turkey-Iraq relations have remained closely defined by parameters established decades earlier, dependent upon both local circumstances and foreign influence.

Current relations

In an earlier sign that Iraq's neighbours are improving their ties with Baghdad, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish leader to visit Baghdad in nearly 20 years, in 2008. That visit sought to strengthen ties strained in early 2008 by attacks launched into Turkey by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels based in remote parts of northern Iraq.

Tensions have risen between the Kurdistan Regional Government (in Northern Iraq) and Turkey, as clashes between Turkey and the PKK continue.

See also


External links

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