MESOP NEWS : Çelik signals Turkey to welcome independent Kurdish state in Iraq

June 29, 2014, Sunday/TODAY’S ZAMAN / ISTANBUL – Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik has indicated that Turkey will recognize a Kurdish state in northern Iraq if the crisis-stricken country is divided, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.“If Iraq is divided and it is inevitable, [the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)] are our brothers. … Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq is not good and it looks like it is going to be divided,” Çelik said in his remarks to the Financial Times.

He also reportedly said that although an independent Kurdish state was previously a reason for war for Turkey, no one has the right to say so now.Last week, KRG President Massoud Barzani signaled that the time has come for Iraqi Kurds to realize their decades-old dream of becoming an independent state. In his remarks to CNN, Barzani said that the moment has arrived for the Kurdish people to determine their future, and the decision of the people is what the KRG are going to uphold. He also reiterated an opinion articulated in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry last Thursday, saying Iraqi Kurds are facing a new reality and a new Iraq.

Although 5 million Kurds secured the right to govern themselves in an autonomous region of three remote mountainous provinces in 2005 in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein, disputes have remained unresolved over the authority to grant oil exploration rights and the territorial boundaries of the autonomous region. Iraqi Kurds, who long dreamed of having an independent state, have seized on this month’s chaos to expand their own territory, taking control of rich oil deposits.

In recent years Turkey has enjoyed better relations with the KRG than it has with the Iraqi central government. Turkey’s improving relations with the KRG have been marked with energy deals and high-level diplomatic visits. In a show of support for Turkey, KRG leader Barzani paid a visit to Diyarbakır, a predominantly Kurdish city, during the settlement process. During his visit, Barzani renewed his support for the settlement process, which was initiated by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2012 to resolve the country’s decades-old terrorism problem.

Ankara and Arbil also have strengthened their ties through mutual regional interests and increased energy sector trade that has recently been gaining momentum. Although Ankara’s exclusive and independent energy relations with Arbil have angered Baghdad, Turkey’s desire to gain greater access to Kurdish energy resources has resulted in a compromise between Iraq and its autonomous KRG region.