Turkey's already strained relations with Iraq continue to worsen, with the two countries now engaged in open disputes over several issues, with little hope for reconciliation in sight.
The main bone of contention between the two neighbors is the fate of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi. Recently sentenced to death by a Baghdad court on charges that he ran death squads, the Sunni politician is currently living in self-imposed exile in Turkey. After the verdict was announced, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Hashemi is safe in Turkey. "I'll say it very clearly. We will be willing to host Mr. Hashemi as long as he wants, and we will not hand him over," Erdogan said in Ankara the other day.
It didn't take long for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to respond, announcing Thursday that it has stopped registering new Turkish companies that want to do business in Iraq for, ahem, "regulatory and statistics" purposes. The move is not a minor one, considering that Iraq has become Turkey's second largest export market, with Iraqis buying some $8 billion worth of Turkish goods in 2011, up from $2.8 billion in 2007. (In response, Ankara summoned the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey to explain his government's move.)
Baghdad's punitive actions against Turkey aren't only because of Ankara's hosting of Hashemi, though. The Iraqi government is also quite angry with Ankara over an August 2 visit Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolgu made to the oil-rich and ethnically-divided city of Kirkuk. Davutoglu's trip to the city, which came on the heels of a visit to the Kurdish-controlled northern part of Iraq, was not coordinated with Baghdad, which is reportedly now considering whether to declare the Turkish consul in the city "persona non grata."
To make matters worse, Ankara and Baghdad are also bickering over a recently signed deal between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government which will allow the Kurds in northern Iraq to export oil and gas through Turkey. "Exporting oil from the Kurdistan region to Turkey is illegal and illegitimate," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement issued in July, after the deal was signed. "The oil and gas are the property of all Iraqis and those exports and revenues must be managed by the federal government which represents all Iraqis," added al-Dabbagh, who further accused Ankara of "participating in the smuggling of Iraqi oil. He further warned that "this issue will affect the relations between the two countries, especially the economic ones." The warning clearly fell on deaf ears. As Reuters reported a few days ago, the Kurdish oil trade with Turkey is rising, with one official quoted as saying, "Neither side is thinking about stopping."
Worryingly, the same could be said about Ankara and Baghdad and their deteriorating relations. Both sides keep taking steps that offend the other one, but it doesn't appear that, for now, either side is thinking about stopping.