Barzani discusses Syria with top Turkish officials as Geneva II nears

1. Nov –  2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), paid an official visit to Turkey on Thursday to discuss several issues, in particular the Syrian crisis, with top Turkish officials as the countdown to the Geneva II conference has begun.

Barzani, who visited Turkey upon the invitation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, first met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu before having a meeting with Erdoğan.  According to sources, the Syrian crisis dominated the talks between Barzani and Turkish officials as the planned international conference, called Geneva II, aimed at bringing together representatives from the Syrian regime and opposition, is approaching.

Barzani’s visit came before the Geneva conference, in which Kurds are also preparing to participate. Barzani’s last visit to Turkey in late July coincided with escalating clashes between al-Qaeda-linked radical groups and militants affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the town of Ras al-Ain in Syria. As Syrian Kurds have recently gained ground in the country’s north as a result of fierce fighting with the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Ankara has been disturbed by the effects of a spillover into Turkish provinces on its southern border.

Amid the tension on the northern end of Syria, representatives from two different Syrian Kurdish groups recently visited Turkey.

Davutoğlu met with a delegation from the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC), a group that has agreed to join the main Syrian opposition body, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. However, Davutoğlu appears to have distanced himself from the Syrian Kurdish Supreme Council, which refuses to join the Syrian opposition fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Turkey welcomes the KNC’s decision to join the Syrian coalition, saying this move will strengthen the coalition’s position at Geneva II.

KRG President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) also supports the KNC and the group’s decision to join the Syrian national coalition. However, the same support does not seem to have been given to the Syrian Kurdish Supreme Council, which is an umbrella organization made up of Syrian Kurdish organizations and parties including the PYD.  There were reports that due to the PYD’s pressure on Kurds in Syria, Barzani made a move and called PYD leader Saleh Muslim to northern Iraq, where Barzani delivered a strong warning. There were also claims that Barzani regards Muslim not as a Kurdish leader but as a collaborator of Assad and the regime’s tool. The KNC and the PYD gathered at a conference in Arbil in July 2012 hosted by Barzani. Under the deal that came to be known as the Arbil agreement, the PYD and the KNC joined forces under the Syrian Kurdish Supreme Council. However, disagreements between the PYD and the KNC remained. The establishment of a pro-Barzani faction within the KNC has reportedly worsened the dispute.

The PYD had expressed skepticism when the KNC joined the main opposition coalition on Sep. 16, saying the move would divide Syrian Kurds. The PYD refuses to join the anti-Assad opposition as the opposition has failed to accept Kurdish demands for autonomy in areas in northern Syria populated by Kurds. Meanwhile, there were also reports claiming that the KDP had prevented Muslim from entering the KRG — something which the KDP has denied.

On Thursday, Ahmet Türk, the former chairman of the defunct Democratic Society Party (DTP), also stated that Barzani was shooting himself in the foot by preventing Muslim’s entry into the KRG, saying that his attitude will harm Kurds.While throwing its support behind the KNC, Turkey also held talks with the PYD. Muslim recently paid visits to Turkey for talks with Turkish officials. The talks were hailed as a breakthrough in relations with the PYD, the most powerful Syrian Kurdish group, as Ankara had previously avoided dialogue with the group. But whether the talks produced progress remains to be seen, as Muslim later complained about Turkish support for opposition forces fighting against the PYD in northern Syria.

Peace process with Kurds, Ankara-Baghdad ties also on agenda

During the meetings between the KRG prime minister and Turkish officials, besides the crisis in neighboring Syria, the settlement process which the Turkish government is conducting with the terrorist PKK to solve the country’s terrorism problem, increasing diplomatic efforts between Ankara and Baghdad and relations between Turkey and the KRG were also discussed on Thursday.

Barzani’s visit followed a recent high-level visit from the central administration of Iraq to Turkey, which signaled a thaw in strained relations with Baghdad.

Last week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari paid a two-day official visit to Turkey, with both countries deciding to improve their relationship in a bid to put an end to frosty ties. During a joint press conference with Davutoğlu, Zebari said that although there are differences of opinion on some issues between Baghdad and Ankara, there are no problems that cannot be solved. The Iraqi foreign minister called on Davutoğlu to turn a new page in relations.

Zebari’s visit to Turkey was the result of recent diplomatic traffic between Ankara and Baghdad. Last Wednesday, Volkan Bozkır, the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, paid a visit to Baghdad to meet with top Iraqi officials and in particular to deliver an invitation to Nouri al-Maliki on behalf of Erdoğan. Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Usama Abdul Aziz al-Nujayfi also visited Ankara with a delegation from the Iraqi Parliament in mid-September. Davutoğlu is now preparing to visit Baghdad in late November. After Davutoğlu’s visit, Maliki is expected to pay an official visit to Ankara. Erdoğan might also visit Iraq after receiving Maliki in Turkey, according to some media reports.