A top Turkish envoy was dispatched to Iraq yesterday to finalize Ankara's bid to open a consulate in the southern city of Basra, in an effort to strengthen Turkey's ties with Shiite groups that comprise around 65 percent of Iraq's population.
Murat Özçelik, Turkey's special representative to Iraq traveled to Baghdad where he will meet with officials from the Iraqi government.
Diplomatic sources said Özçelik's visit should be considered as a follow-up to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's trip to Ankara two weeks ago, where a number of issues were discussed to improve political and economic ties and also in other related fields.
It's not certain yet whether he will meet officials from the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government.
Turkey and Iraq agreed to boost relations during Talabani's visit and increase the frequency of diplomatic visits. On the top of the to-do list with Iraq, is improving energy ties and building an additional natural gas pipeline to carry Iraqi reserves to world markets. But as the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has not yet agreed to pass a crucial law on oil it would take some time to finalize matters.
But Ankara does not want to waste time by waiting for the deal and plans to strengthen ties with the Shiite community in the southern part of the country. Özçelik's visit's primary aim is to speed up efforts to open a consulate in oil-rich Basra, the country's fifth-largest city.
To open in two months
Özçelik is expected to meet with Foreign Ministry officials and U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker on the matter. "It was the Shiites who requested us to be present in Basra. This idea was very much welcomed by the United States and Britain," diplomatic sources said.
They added that the motive behind the Shiite proposal was mainly economic, a move to push Turkey, the region's largest economy, to invest in the southern part of the country.
The proposal, they said, also included establishing an industrial zone in the region to allow Turkish investors to sell their products to the United States free of tax. The consulate in Basra is expected be open in the next two months.
Having discussed the project with Talabani, Ankara has decided to take necessary steps to realize it. However, besides the project's economic benefits Ankara would also enjoy its political gains. Having contacts with all religious and ethnic groups was the key element of our Iraq policy. Therefore our intension to open a consulate in Basra should be considered in this understanding, sources said.
However, "We are also eager to open a consulate in Arbil but it is not very possible at the moment due to the Iraqi Kurds' policies, sources said.
Last Mod: 21 Mart 2008, 15:41