Davutoğlu’s delayed visit to Iraq
Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Iraq, which was scheduled for Jan. 10-11, 2011, has been postponed for now. The minister is expected to visit the country in the next couple of weeks. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to make a visit to Iraq after Davutoğlu.
There are few hotels in Baghdad, and they are currently undergoing maintenance for the Arab League summit that will be held in Baghdad in March, causing Davutoğlu to keep his delegation at home. Aside from this, Baghdad continues to be the scene of political developments.
The last time Davutoğlu visited Iraq was on Nov. 7, 2010. His visit was going to be an expression of support for the new Iraqi government. During his visit, the preliminary work of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was going to be carried out. Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai have already visited Iraq to lend their support to the Iraqi government. Last week Iran’s new foreign affairs minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, made his first visit among Arab countries to Iraq. In this respect, Salehi’s visit shows where Iraq stands with regard to Iran’s foreign policy.
Davutoğlu had plans to visit Baghdad, Najaf and Kirkuk. No senior level Turkish diplomat other than Turkey’s ambassador in Baghdad, Murat Özcelik, has visited Najaf, which is one of the most important Shiite centers in Iraq and the place where Hazrati Ali’s tomb is believed to be located. Davutoğlu was going to be the first Turkish minister to visit Najaf.
Davutoğlu’s planned visit to Kirkuk is also very important. Turkish politicians were not able to visit Kirkuk between the years 1976 and 2006. A delegation of Turkish military officers, politicians and diplomats visited Kirkuk for the first time in 1937 after the Sadabat Pact was signed.
Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel visited the city in 1967.
During his visit, Demirel met with a 10-person delegation from the Turkmen Brotherhood Association. The leaders of the delegation, retired Col. Abdullah Abdurrahman and Dr. Necdet Koçak, as well as Dr. Rıza Demirci and Adil Sharif were executed at the order of Saddam in 1980.
President Cevdet Sunay studied at the Kirkuk Military High School in 1910 visited Kirkuk in 1969.
Demirel visited Kirkuk for a second time when he went to attend the opening ceremony of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline in 1972. President Fahri Korutürk went to Kirkuk in 1976 and visited the Kirkuk Turkish Cultural Center, where he addressed close to 10,000 Turkmen.
After Korutürk’s visit, wide-scale arrests took place among Turkmen in Kirkuk, and Turkmen were constantly subject to assimilation until the Saddam Hussein regime collapsed. The most recent visit to Kirkuk by Turkish officials was in 2006, when a delegation from the Turkish Parliament, which included Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Balıkesir deputy Turhan Çömez and Republican People’s Party (CHP) Tokat deputy Orhan Ziya Diren, visited the city.
Davutoğlu’s Kirkuk visit will be the first visit by a senior-level Turkish official since 1976.
Kirkuk is one of the most important oil fields in Iraq and the center of the Turkmen population in Iraq. It is an important center for Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq. Following 2003, Kurdish groups started intensifying efforts to take control of the city. The central Iraqi government is having trouble countering the desire of Kurds to dominate the city.
Turkey wants to open a third embassy in Kirkuk, after Basra and Arbil. Reopening the Turkish Cultural Center, which is affiliated with the Turkish Ministry of Culture but was closed down during Saddam’s reign, will be an important development in terms of healing the wounds of Kirkuk Turkmen who were oppressed under Saddam’s rule.