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PM: We are working to connect the East to Europe through Iraq, Turkiye

May 31, 2024 at 8:01 pm

Prime Minister of Iraq Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani poses for a photo in Baghdad, Iraq on May 31, 2024 [Iraqi Prime Ministry – Anadolu Agency]

Iraqi Prime Minister, Muhammed Shiya Al-Sudani, stated that Iraq’s mission of being a historical trade route between the East and the West will be revitalised with the Development Road Project, and added: “The Development Road Project will bring together Iraq and Turkiye. It means connecting the East and Europe through its lands,” he said.

The Iraqi leader talked about the Development Road Project, which has come to the fore recently in Turkiye-Iraq relations, and its regional effects, the common vision between the two countries in the fight against the terrorist organisation the PKK, the plans of Iraq’s natural gas resources, which do not receive the necessary attention but promise great potential and the plans of Turkish companies.

The Development Pathway Project has become an initiative attracting global attention. How do you evaluate the contributions of the project in terms of regional development and peace? Could you give information about the current situation?

First of all, we need to look at Iraq’s role in the trade between the East and the West for centuries, from a historical perspective. For centuries, I would not be exaggerating if I say since pre-historic centuries, Mesopotamia has been a preferred route for trade by various commercial convoys. The convoys used this route, passing through the cities and towns of Mesopotamia. The Development Road is basically the restoration of this historical mission, connecting the Faw Port (in Basra) to the Turkish border. This project connects the East and Europe through the lands of Iraq and Turkiye, according to current market balances and international trade movements.

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This region also experiences fluctuations due to conflict and tension. This necessitates an effort to focus on projects that will cover common interests and benefits. The Development Road will allow the establishment of new industrial cities on each side of the road, which will strengthen trade along the road. Later this year, we will open the first docks of Faw Port and the first flow of products through the Development Road corridor will begin. All economic indicators and feasibility studies point out that this corridor is the most cost-effective and fastest corridor among the existing routes. We do not claim that the project is an alternative, but regional and international trade really needs the Development Path. This project connects and strengthens overlapping interests and economic sustainability factors.

What kind of cooperation do the two countries carry out in the fight against the presence of the terrorist organisation, PKK, in northern Iraq?

It is known that the PKK has been present here since the 80s and under what conditions it exists, just like the reasons for the tension and conflict it causes are known. Not enough efforts have been made to solve this issue radically. We approach the PKK or any party within the framework of consistent principles. The existence of PKK elements began to emerge under the name of individual refugees. Our Constitution prohibits Iraqi territory from being a place for any armed group to target neighbouring countries. Therefore, in terms of national security, we declared all structures affiliated with the PKK as banned, with the decision we passed in the Iraqi National Security Council. In addition, we took regulatory measures regarding Mahmur Camp and updated the names, registrations and all information about the camp residents. We will apply this attitude not only to Turkiye but to all organisations that target any neighbouring country. It’s important to recognise that allowing long-standing problems to fester does no one any good. It is in no one’s interest to allow the activities of armed groups that threaten the security of the region. The region needs stability to overcome political, economic and other problems.

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The parties are working feverishly to increase the trade volume between Turkiye and Iraq. What kind of steps are on your agenda?

The way to increase the volume of bilateral trade with Turkiye is possible through vertical expansion. However, we also want to expand this horizontally. This can happen with the new Development Road Project. The goal is to develop horizontally the trade between the two countries, thus creating common interests. Experience and recent history reveal that the development of a country in isolation from its neighbouring countries can be fraught with uncertainty and possible conflicts. That’s why we focus on increasing the trade volume between the two countries. Thus, common interests based on long-term stability develop with our Turkish brothers. We also focused on the agricultural sector, which is one of the most important investments for cooperation and the future. We will soon see that we will make significant progress in this field with the participation of Turkish companies.

Iraq has a strong potential in natural gas. What kind of investment plan do you have?

Natural gas investment is a strategic option for Iraq. It is necessary to present national wealth and development plans to the public in the best way possible. This burning of natural gas on site (due to technical necessity) must stop. Doing so, on the one hand, wastes national wealth and, on the other hand, harms the environment. We issued special licenses to benefit from natural gas. We plan for Iraq to reach a self-sufficient level in natural gas production within the next 3 years. Iraq plans to occupy an important position in the natural gas market in the next 5 years. We will become self-sufficient in electricity production from this important material. Natural gas is of great importance in the petrochemical industry. We are trying to make the best use of this. Our doors are open to all expert and well-established companies that want to work in this sector. We also welcome companies from regional countries. Because, along with the investment in natural gas, these companies will also invest in other areas. In this case, we need to understand that the production and investment of natural gas means an alternative source for the development of Iraq. We would like to see Turkish companies and companies from other friendly countries in the natural gas field and other investments.

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During President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s last visit to Baghdad, 26 Memorandums of Understanding were signed between the two countries. You also evaluated the situation regarding the export of Iraqi oil via Turkiye. Can you give information about the current situation and, also, is there a possibility of transporting Basra oil to the Mediterranean via Turkiye? Is this issue on your agenda?

Stopping the shipment of Iraqi oil extracted from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is, of course, a loss for Iraq, and this loss is a missed opportunity to support the development of the cities of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and strengthen the Iraqi economy. We have suggested some acceptable solutions and legal regulations to solve this problem. However, the solution to this depends on legal procedures. According to the declaration of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and the Iraqi federal general budget law, the cost of extracting a barrel of oil is $8. However, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government sets the cost of extracting each barrel of oil from underground as $26 in the contract it made with the companies there. For this purpose, we suggested a new law or changes to the contracts made with these companies. The decision of the companies to stop their operations is not due to the federal Iraqi government, but because these companies are waiting for a solution. For these reasons, further efforts are needed to reach a legal solution that guarantees Iraq’s rights and the wealth of the Iraqi people. Work is currently underway to send Basra oil to the Mediterranean via Turkish ports, and the creation of an economic feasibility plan is of great importance.

During President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit, an agreement on water was signed between Turkiye and Iraq. What kind of cooperation is developing between the parties in this field?

It is clear to everyone that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the artery of Iraq. Before Iraq became Iraq, it was known as Mesopotamia, meaning “the land between two rivers”. The water file has been one of the most important strategic files between Iraq and Turkiye for many years. We have experienced many water shortages and dry seasons in recent years. Due to this situation, we could not even provide drinking water to some of our southern provinces. Our Turkish brothers have observations about our water consumption method. We have made significant progress in implementing new technological methods in agricultural irrigation. This will have a positive impact on water use. Turkiye is quite successful in terms of experience and knowledge in the field of water consumption. Therefore, this agreement, which will last approximately ten years in water management, includes improving water management, initiating new water projects and sharing experiences in the field of new irrigation technologies. These new projects also include dams. We have previously stated that any problem that may arise regarding Iraq’s share of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is in the interest of neither Turkiye nor the region. After all, there is only one common source of water that connects us to life. This source is the basis of thousands of years of Iraqi civilisation.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.