I feel privileged to have represented my country, Türkiye, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) since November 2022. Since its creation in 2010, the General Consulate of Türkiye in Erbil has contributed to building robust and cooperative relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) across various fields. However, our relations with the KRI began long before 2010.
Türkiye’s partnership with the KRG not only holds historical significance but also promises a brighter future for both sides. This partnership, however, is not limited to economic and trade spheres; it also reflects a deep cultural connection between Turkish people and our brothers and sisters in the KRI.
This article reflects on the growth of these vital ties and the highlights of our collaborative efforts.
The commercial bond between Türkiye and the KRG has been an integral part of the steadily growing relations between Türkiye and Iraq. According to recent data, the bilateral trade volume between Türkiye and the Iraq has continued to surge, reaching a historic record of $24 billion in 2022.
Iraq has always been one of Türkiye’s top trading partners. A considerable part of this trade is with the KRI, with the region constituting an inroad to Iraq for the Turkish business community.
Trade statistics reveal the diversified nature of our economic engagement. We observe a thriving exchange of goods, with exports and imports covering a broad spectrum of industries. Türkiye exports a wide range of goods to the KRI, including food products, construction materials, furniture, and machinery. We are looking forward to diversifying and expanding our trade relations in the future.
The Habur/Ibrahim Khalil border gate
One of the vital lifelines that sustains the thriving relationship between Türkiye and the KRG is the Habur/Ibrahim Khalil border gate. This strategic link enables the efficient flow of goods, services, and people and thus creates a vibrant economic corridor.
Year after year, this border crossing witnesses an impressive volume of trade, facilitating the exchange of goods and commodities valued at billions of dollars. With state-of-the-art infrastructure, streamlined customs procedures, and a commitment to international standards, Habur/Ibrahim Khalil has become a model for border management.
It is, however, more than just a point of exchange. The border gate symbolizes the ease with which both sides conduct business, reinforcing the message that Türkiye and the KRG are partners on a journey of progress and prosperity. The success of Habur/Ibrahim Khalil is a result of the harmonious efforts of both sides, allowing commerce to flourish and spurring development in the KRI.
Although Habur/Ibrahim Khalil is the main artery for our economic and trade relations, we need to increase the number of such crossings to manage our vast interactions across the border more efficiently. We have thus opened the Uzumlu- Sar Zerri and Derecik-Zet border crossings in recent years. With additional efforts to open additional crossings, we can further promote our partnership in a way that benefits Iraq, the KRI, and Türkiye.
Investment is another cornerstone of our relations with the KRG. In recent years, a large number of Turkish companies have invested significantly in various sectors, ranging from infrastructure and housing to energy, thus contributing to the economic development of the KRI. Over nearly 15 years, Turkish construction companies have invested over $6 billion, contributing to job creation and prosperity for the people in the region.
These investments have spurred economic growth and fostered stronger cultural ties and people-to-people relations. The KRI has thus become a significant destination for Turkish entrepreneurs who are seeking new avenues for expansion, showcasing Türkiye’s faith in the region’s potential.
Energy cooperation between Türkiye and the KRG has long been a focal point of our relationship, with the export of Kurdish oil to international markets via Türkiye bolstering the KRI’s economy and contributing to international energy security. Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Alparslan Bayraktar recently announced that the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline is ready for operations after a six-month suspension following the devastating earthquake in Türkiye this year. We hope that the current disputes between Baghdad and Erbil are resolved soon in a sustainable manner so that oil will flow again through the pipeline. We are also maintaining our engagement with Baghdad regarding this issue.
The Development Road Project
The Development Road Project (DRP) is a strategic infrastructure project that will connect Türkiye and Iraq to their neighbors and the rest of the world through a network of roads, railways, and pipelines. A more efficient and cost-effective route for transportation will promote regional integration and cooperation and create thousands of jobs during the construction and operation phases.
Türkiye is a natural partner in this project, and we firmly believe that once realized, the DRP will create a win-win situation for Iraq, the KRI, and Türkiye.
Facing common challenges
One of the most compelling aspects of the Türkiye-KRG relationship is our shared geography and the opportunities it presents. However, this brings with it the responsibility to eradicate common security challenges, most prominently acts of terrorism committed by the PKK.
Unfortunately, for decades the PKK terrorists had found refuge in Iraq and the KRI, constantly threatening the national security of Türkiye and posing a challenge for the security and stability of Iraq and the KRI. Only when PKK elements are uprooted from Iraqi territories can Iraq, the KRI, and Türkiye realize the true potential in our relations.
In short, our common future is intertwined, and our success in facing common challenges will be essential toward ensuring regional stability and prosperity.
The path forward
As we celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, we must reflect on our past accomplishments and look to the future to further enhance our relations. To this end, there is a clear need to continue strengthening the infrastructure connectivity between Iraq, the KRI, and Türkiye. We will continue to support initiatives aiming at facilitating our bilateral trade relations as well as transit trade to other regions, especially to the Gulf and Europe.
Moreover, diversifying the sectors for investment presents an exciting prospect. Encouraging Turkish businesses to explore opportunities in fields such as renewable energy, e-trade, healthcare and medical technologies, fintech, and banking will not only boost the KRI’s development but also reaffirm Türkiye's status as a key partner.
Resilient bonds in trying times
The resilient bonds between Türkiye and the KRG are not just confined to prosperity but extend to support in times of adversity. It is worth recalling the touching solidarity shown by the KRG following the devastating earthquake that struck Türkiye on February 6, 2023. The KRG swiftly offered assistance, sending relief teams and aid to the affected areas. This gesture of compassion went beyond a diplomatic or official response and reflected our deep and genuine friendship. As Türkiye has helped our Kurdish friends in Iraq in the past on multiple occasions, we appreciated similar sentiments that prevail in the KRI and the solidarity that was demonstrated after the “disaster of the century” in Türkiye.
In conclusion, the Türkiye-KRG relationship is a shining example of how two sides can achieve prosperity and stability through cooperation across various fields. With a shared geography and a common future, Türkiye and the KRG are poised to continue reaping the benefits of this multifaceted cooperation.
Mehmet Mevlüt Yakut is the Consul General of Türkiye in Erbil