Turkey's Mesopotamian vision

Earlier this week, we were in Baghdad with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and had a chance to observe the current state of Turkish-Iraqi relations.

Given the fact that the likelihood of an armed conflict was considerably high in 2007, it is really surprising to see this perfect harmony in relations attained in the hot summer days of 2009. Not only was successful crisis management implemented by Turkey, but also the good-intentioned and cool-headed approach adopted by the Maliki government in Baghdad was effective in the transition from crisis to vision.

The High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, established between the two countries in 2008, was a major indicator of this transition. Signed in Baghdad, the agreement setting up this committee provides for the integration, not mere cooperation, between the two countries. Thanks to this agreement, Turkish-Iraqi relations have gone beyond ordinary bilateral relations and acquired an institutional character. As a matter of fact, eight major ministers from the two countries gather twice or thrice every year. And at least once, a sort of joint cabinet convenes under the chairmanship of the two prime ministers.

Speaking on the matter, Davutoğlu explained: "We intend to undertake such an enormous project that these two countries, which are natural extensions of each other in terms of sharing the same basin, can fully integrate in infrastructure, energy, transportation and commerce. In determining which ministries should be among these eight major ministers, we took into consideration those capable of realizing this vision."

Indeed, this perfect harmony between Turkey and the central government in Baghdad lays the ground for the novel Mesopotamian vision among Turkey, Iraq and Syria and signifies a vision that has the potential to give back to Mesopotamia its past grandeur.

One of the fundamental legs of this vision might be the revival of the İstanbul-Basra railway project. This project was discussed once again during the last meeting, and we can say that there is almost complete agreement on it. Davutoğlu expounds that this vision will also be beneficial to the European Union. "Connecting Turkey and Iraq via a railway means that the EU is connected to Basra. In other words, a train will be able to depart from Belgium and arrive in the Gulf without a problem. In the past, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the British would have to go around the Cape of Good Hope to access the Indian Ocean. Now, we will provide a shortcut."

No one should be surprised to see a natural gas pipeline laid parallel to the existing Kirkuk-Yumurtalık oil pipeline in addition to the interconnectedness of the transportation lines of Turkey and Iraq. (Obviously, this can come true if the political tension in the region is eased. Considering these developments together with the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, one feels nothing but extreme enthusiasm over the potential.)

During this visit by Davutoğlu to Baghdad, the Turkish side submitted its projects to Iraqi officials. During the next month, eight Iraqi ministers will develop their own projects and visit Ankara. In late October or early November, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will pay a visit to Baghdad for a meeting chaired by the two prime ministers.

Can the Mesopotamian vision be implemented?

Bilateral relations between Turkey and Syria are just perfect. A similar description can also be used for relations between Ankara and Baghdad. There is no major obstacle in sight for Turkey to implement this vision as a catalyst. The implementation of this vision will be beneficial to all countries in this region called Mesopotamia, a stretch of land that always acted in unity in the past.

We see that Turkey's target of having zero problems with neighbors has largely been attained. Turkey's new target with respect to its immediate region is as Davutoğlu puts it, "maximum relations with neighbors." The Mesopotamian vision will be a major ingredient of this target.

This last visit to Baghdad has shown that this vision, developed in Ankara, was found acceptable by Baghdad and Damascus. The weakest link in its implementation seems to be the Barzani administration in Arbil.

Gürkan Zengin