KRG President Massoud Barzani (L) greets Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the AK Party congress. (Photo: AA, Kayhan Özer)
The relations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq are shining nowadays, thanks to economic cooperation and Turkish investment in flourishing cities of the KRG. The energy partnership is expected to boost the ties between the two parties still further. But the Turkish government's political relationship with leaders of northern Iraq seems to be more personal than with the region's authorities as a whole; that's why it lowers the expectations for a long and sustainable relationship between Ankara and the KRG. To avoid that, Turkey should change its policy toward the KRG to a more comprehensive one that embraces all parties of the region.
The ties between Turkey and the KRG have a young history, starting just three years ago. But they have been improving very rapidly. However the relations have mostly remained only with Massoud Barzani and Nechirvan Barzani's Kurdistan Democracy Party (KDP), which controls less than half of the Kurdish region. However, Turkey's relationship with the other parties is very limited. Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls the other part of the KRG, is closer to Iran, and makes up 50 percent of the cabinet. Also, the places that are under the PUK's control have more oil and natural gas than those under the KDP's control, and natural resources are one of the main factors driving the relations between the two parties. This is why many inside the region think that relations between Turkey and the KRG are more personal than the ones between the two national governments. Turkey should seek stronger ties with the PUK because without them, she cannot build an energy partnership with the KRG. Even though Turkey and the PUK already have ties and a high delegation from the PUK visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month, these ties are still far weaker compared with the ones with the KDP.
Not only that, if Turkey wants a sustainable partnership with the KRG, it should expand its ties to include the opposition as well, especially the main opposition Gorran movement. The Gorran Movement for Change, which holds 23 percent of the Kurdish parliament, is expected to perform better in the upcoming election, anticipated to be held in August. Gorran is particularly expecting to win in the PUK-held oil-rich territories, which should cause concern for Turkey. Last year, the Turkish government invited Nawsherwan Mustafa, leader of the Gorran movement, to visit Ankara, but that has never happened. While Gorran's relationship with Iran is well established, this could change because this movement is a liberal force; it has no ideological connection to Iran, only shared interests. There is also a possibility that both the PUK and Gorran will make a coalition government without the KDP. Turkey's relations with the KRG will decline at the expense of Iran's because its ally, the KDP, will no longer be the governing party.
Given the fact that Turkey supports democratic change in the region, it should also do the same in the KRG, which suffers from weak democratic institutions and corruption. It should press the ruling parties to make some reforms to consolidate democracy and human rights. If Turkey does those things, then it can secure the supply for its energy-hungry economy with the KRG's huge amount of oil and natural gas.