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Interview with Turkish Ambassador to Iraq

Turkey is determined to improve relations with and continue humanitarian work in neighbouring Iraq, despite the rejection last year of Turkish troop deployment by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. In an interview with IRIN, Turkey's Ambassador to Iraq, Osman Paksüt, said that although his country had offered humanitarian assistance it was becoming increasingly difficult to deliver it because of the poor security situation. He also highlighted the difficulties of conducting official business in the absence of well-established administrative structures on the Iraqi side. QUESTION: What sorts of humanitarian activities are you carrying out in Iraq? ANSWER: The security situation is hampering our humanitarian activities. Travelling around is dangerous for anyone. For example, you saw the Bulgarian president was shot at the other day as his convoy was travelling somewhere around Najaf [holy city in southern Iraq]. Poor security even lead to the cancellation of a trade fare due to be held in Baghdad. Now it has been switched to Turkey. Unless the situation improves, reconstruction work and humanitarian work cannot go forward. Q: What are the immediate tasks you will carry out in Iraq? A: Last year, we allocated US $5 million for humanitarian work. We wanted to build two hospitals. We started building one hospital in Baghdad, but we couldn't proceed as planned because of [poor] security. The second one, we wanted to build in Kirkuk. It was not approved by the administrators there. So we are a little bit frustrated with the way our assistance offer was met. But we sent humanitarian supplies to northern Iraq and to Baghdad. We also hope to do irrigation and potable water projects in Mosul in the future. Q: What sort of humanitarian role do you expect to play in Iraq? A: We re-allocated $50 million this year to be spent on health infrastructure and education. We will help universities here and send students on exchange programmes to universities in Turkey. We want to build hospitals in agreement with local authorities. But there still is confusion about who will be in charge after 30 June [when sovereignty is to be handed over to Iraqis]. We don't know who will give the approval to build a school or a hospital. It's no fault on our part, but we have to wait to see what the administrative infrastructure will be here. Basically, that's what prevents us from doing assistance and reconstruction at the moment. Security is also a problem, but the [current] loose governing structure is worse. People are appointed to various offices, but then they're removed and replaced. This makes it difficult for us. We don't know if the Transitional Administrative Law, or TAL [approved by US administrators and appointed government leaders on 15 November] will be implemented. The majority of Iraqis do not embrace it. In fact, we understand [UN and Iraq] representatives are negotiating to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution to adjust parts of the transitional law. They say there will be a caretaker government, but what will the caretaker government take care of? There's no point in rushing things on the ground, unless there's a dire humanitarian emergency [arising] from fighting [Coalition forces are currently battling insurgents in Fallujah and Najaf] or from an epidemic. We must plan more carefully and prepare projects with the right people and agencies. Q: What particular skills or expertise do you bring to the humanitarian effort? A: We have sent several dozens of Iraqi patients to Turkish hospitals - children wounded during the war and some chronically ill people. In one case, we sent 12 people by plane to Turkey who came back to Iraq after treatment. After the terrorist bombings in Arbil earlier this year we treated more than 40 people for burns and other wounds. Some of them are still in Turkey. Also, take the number of cancer incidents. The number is increasing, probably from depleted uranium. We don't have the World Health Organization here. It's a tragedy that the United Nations and humanitarian agencies can't work here. The number of cancer patients has doubled or tripled, but there's no reliable proof of what's causing their disease. Iraqis are saying they can treat them, but they probably don't have the capability or the expertise. Sometimes they reject the problem because they feel offended when we say we can help. Q: What will Turkey's top priority be in Iraq? A: We are able to help in many respects. We can improve the sanitary and water systems here. Construction [expertise] is more advanced in Turkey, so we offered to build a new road, for example, from a new [Turkey/Iraq] border gate to Mosul. Our project would include a border gate to the west of the current border gate and would pass through Talafar, a Shi'ite region in northern Iraq. This project was not agreed to on the Iraqi side. They said, just open the second gate and make the road go to Zakhou [a northern region between Mosul and the Turkish border]. From Khabur gate [the current Turkey/Iraq border crossing], our aim is to revitalise the economy of the Mosul region. They did not approach the idea warmly, however. Presently the road is controlled by the KDP [Kurdish Democratic Party]. The KDP are collecting taxes and fees. They say they can calculate what they owe to the central government and compensate them, but others aren't collecting the same kind of taxes. It is a source of income for the Kurdish authorities. I don't want to accuse them, but we couldn't agree on the road. It places an extra financial burden on Iraq if they don't accept our help, since it would cost $60 million to $90 million to build such a road. We could find financing for this project. It could be the World Bank or Turkish financing. There is also a project to build a railroad from Turkey south into Iraq, but it requires building the track. These are long-term projects. There should be a government to negotiate with, not just the Ministry of Planning, although the minister is very good. There is no prime minister, there is no five-year plan, there is no one-year plan, nothing. State structures are not existing, so that's a problem. Countries like Japan have had good success with smaller projects, so I shouldn't use that excuse for our problems in Iraq. But there needs to be the correct interlocutor. The system, the situation is unreliable. It's not the people, they are very reliable. All the ministers are very reliable. But they are new in their jobs and don't have the staff, the power, or the authority to give instructions. They don't have good communications. There is no banking. Q: How was the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council's rejection of Turkish troops to help bolster security in the country viewed back home in Turkey? A: We felt relieved when it was rejected. We made a good-faith offer after receiving an invitation from the United States. We saw our troops would be welcome if they were not under the command of the Coalition forces. If it was a stabilising force, it would be welcome. But the Kurdish reaction was so strong, it was backed by others in the Governing Council. Q: There are some 12,000 Kurds from Turkey living in northern Iraq - what is their situation now and are they returning home? A: The Turkish Kurds are mainly people who moved to Iraq when the PKK [Kurdistan Worker's Party] and [Turkish] security forces conflict reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. We realised the PKK's aim was to create a base where more militants were in their ranks. Once a refugee camp becomes more permanent, it is a way of life. So, the situation in the camp is that PKK elements in Iraq want the camp to stay as it is. But the security situation in Turkey is now safe. People can come back now. It won't be easy but we have to show them the way. We still must negotiate some details, however. Q: What assistance will you give these refugees? How will you integrate their return into Turkish society? A: There is an agreement between UNHCR [the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Turkey and Iraq to close down this camp. But a lot of people don't want to go back. There are things the Turkish government will do and there are things UNHCR will do. The United States says it will also help, but now, as sovereignty comes to Iraq [scheduled for 30 June] there is a little bit of foot-dragging on the part of the United States on making guarantees for the safe and orderly implementation of this agreement. The problem is, in a few months they'll say they're out of this. The agreement didn't enter into force yet, but refugees would return to their villages. The Turkish government doesn't promise jobs or houses, but it would help. It will be the job of the governorates [in Turkey] to make sure this happens. Repatriation has to be orderly. It will take several months or a year. Some housing will be necessary, since houses may have been damaged before. If the refugees are going to rebuild, instead of mud houses, they should get more modern housing. Many in the camp married Iraqis. Some children don't know Turkish at all, and the families have not been home in more than a decade. So adaptation for them is quite a project. UNHCR requires help to bring the people back, and they need to be screened. If people are accused of terrorist activities, they have the right to find out if they are accused of any crimes. This process will be completed before they go back. With housing and other things, the World Bank can help, the European Union can help. Q: How are commercial relations between Turkey and Iraq, especially with regards to the oil pipeline leading to the Ceyhan terminal? A: The pipeline was sabotaged many times on the Iraq side. But as long as it is safe and operational on the Iraq side, crude oil will be pumped from the Iraq terminal. Oil production overall is not at 100 percent efficiency yet. In the short-term, [the southern city of] Basra will be the key, but in the north there are more oil fields in the Kirkuk area that have not been exploited. Some people say Iraq's reserves are still twice as much as the current known oil in Iraq, but it will take billions of dollars to explore. We also know there are natural gas fields in Mosul. Q: Are you involved with oil exploration in Iraq now? A: We can build other pipelines, so we see a huge potential for cooperation between Turkey and Iraq on this. But when we talk to the [US-appointed] Governing Council, they say they are temporary and cannot make a permanent decision because it's not their role to make such an important national decision. Technically, it's not possible to increase oil production overnight. The first thing Iraq needs is political stability. Oil pumping can come later. Q: Overall, what's your sense of Turkish relations with Iraq? A: Relationships between individuals are very good. The fact that the Turkish parliament declined to send troops was well received. We have much in common historically and culturally. But Kurdish nationalism was on the rise after the war. The fact that they had protection from [former President Saddam] Hussein gave them a lot of power. The idea now is to integrate them into a new regime, but they refuse to be integrated. They say they do not want to be an independent Kurdish state. They want to be part of Iraq, but they are like a detachable structure.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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