Erbil-Ankara relations are “very important and strategic,” Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said on Monday following talks with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Barzani said the Region has taken measures to encourage Turkish companies to invest and boost cross-border trade. According to a KRG statement, he and Cavusoglu stressed the need for more border crossings.
Turkey and the Kurdistan Region currently have just one road crossing, Ibrahim Khalil (Habur), near Zakho, Duhok province. The Iraqi side of the crossing is controlled by the Peshmerga and Kurdish border officials.
Customs revenues are paid to the KRG, which also issues its own visa stamps independently of Baghdad.
There have long been discussions over a potential new crossing in Ovaköy, 12 km southwest of Ibrahim Khalil, which could bypass the Kurdistan Region entirely and allow Turkey to trade directly with Iraq.
Such a new crossing could boost trade and tourism and relieve notoriously long delays at the border. However, a new crossing manned by Iraqi officials could see the KRG sidelined, eating into trade and revenues.
Iraq-Turkey trade volume stands at around $10 billion. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference in March alongside his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih they want to expand it.
A delegation of businessmen from Turkey’s Kurdish provinces of Diyarbakir and Sirnak recently visited Erbil for a construction trade expo.
According to a statement published by the KRG, Barzani, and Cavusoglu also discussed mechanisms to counter terrorism and to address the situation in Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
Kirkuk has a large Turkmen community and historic buildings dating back to the Ottoman period.
The Turkish foreign minister said his country is ready to help rebuild war-ravaged regions, particularly Mosul, which urgently needs help with reconstruction. Turkish construction firms are likely to pick up contracts.
Cavusoglu also met with Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and Kurdistan Region Security Council Chancellor Masrour Barzani, who is slated to replace his cousin as prime minister in the next government.
Cavusoglu arrived in Erbil late on Sunday. He earlier held talks with Iraqi officials in Baghdad and Basra, including Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.