Political Scientist Arzu Yilmaz: Turkey’s plans to establish a trade route in Iraq has nowhere to go

For some time now, contacts between Ankara and Baghdad have gained momentum… One of the primary goals of both countries is the trade road that is envisioned to connect the Persian Gulf to Europe. Because of this road, the question “Is Turkey preparing for a new military operation against Northern Iraq?” is also on the agenda.

Political scientist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Arzu Yılmaz comments on the “Development Road Project”.

The Development Road Project, which will connect Turkey to the Port of Faw in the Persian Gulf via a 1200-kilometer railway and highway through Iraq, has been on the agenda for some time.

Described as the New Silk Road, the project is claimed to affect a wide region from Europe to the Gulf countries. It is even claimed that Turkey is preparing a military operation to end the PKK’s presence in Gare and Metina in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq this summer in order to secure this road. In this context, the Erdogan administration has recently stepped-up diplomatic traffic for the realization of the project. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan attended the Baghdad summit on his return to Washington. The summit decided to expand the cross-border operation and to cooperate on the development road project. Fidan held meetings in Baku, Georgia and Azerbaijan and emphasized “greater integration with Euro-Atlantic political and security structures” in regional politics.

“The source of the money needed for the project is unclear”

Drawing attention to the uncertainties about where and how the financial resources required for the realization of the development road project will be provided, Yılmaz said,

“There is talk of a budget of 22 billion dollars. There are some who say that more may be necessary. But the source of this money is not clear. It will not be easy to find a financier for this project, which has high political and security risks, under the current economic conditions. This is the first weakness. The second weakness is that this project, which will be undertaken in one of the most unstable and high security risk areas of the region, if not the world, is unlikely to be completed, and even if it is, it is unlikely to run smoothly in the foreseeable future. There are those who think that the chances of this project have improved after the recent situation in the Red Sea. But given the functioning of existing trade and energy corridors between the Middle East and Europe, it is hard to see the Development Road as a strong alternative.”

“Iran is aware of Turkey’s intentions”

Yılmaz said that Iran is also aware of Turkey’s intentions, but prefers to remain silent during the current rapprochement between Ankara and Baghdad on the Development Road and other issues due to different priorities.

“We know that Baghdad cannot take a step without Tehran’s approval. But Iran’s priority is the American withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible, and security cooperation between Baghdad and Ankara, for example, is in Iran’s favor to the extent that it accelerates the American withdrawal timetable. In the end, Iran knows that Turkey’s role in Iraq is ultimately to balance/encircle Iran in a post-American Iraq, but it seems to be saying, “Let the US withdraw, we will think about Turkey later”. By the way, we should not forget thatsd the absence of Turkey and especially in the reconstruction process of Iraq after the war against ISIS, Saudi Arabia’s influence in Iraq, as in the entire Middle East, has increased a lot. Today, even the establishment of a Sunni federal region centered on Anbar is back on the agenda. Therefore, for Iran, Turkey’s re-inclusion in the Iraqi equation is also important in terms of balancing Saudi Arabia.

A third reason is that, without a doubt, the burgeoning economic and security relations between Ankara and Baghdad also serve Baghdad’s efforts as a sovereign power to finally take control of the Kurdistan Region. In today’s conditions, everything that is written in Baghdad’s win column also serves Iran’s interests,” she said.

“Baghdad will be given the opportunity to dominate the Kurdistan region as it has not done since 1990”

Yılmaz said that a possible joint Turkish-Iraqi military operation in northern Iraq would allow Baghdad to dominate the Kurdistan Region as it has not done since 1990. “Turkey’s interest in such an operation would be to control the Behdinan region. For Iran, which holds Sinjar and does not allow Turkey into the disputed area, Behdinan coming under Turkish control would not be a problem. Therefore, under these circumstances, Iran cannot be expected to object to the Ankara-Baghdad rapprochement. This is what the trend is already showing.”