Accessibility links

Iran’s Top General Makes Rare Visit to Ankara

  • Dorian Jones

Turkish Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar and his Iranian counterpart Major General Mohammad Baqeri review the guards of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 15, 2017.

In a rare visit, the head of Iran’s armed forces is in Turkey. The two neighbors have found themselves increasing rivals in Iraq and Syria, but both sides are trying to find common ground.

The chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major General Mohammad-Hossein Baqeri, arrived in Ankara, leading a high-ranking military and political delegation, for three days of talks. It is the first visit by Iran’s chief of staff since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Regional rivalries

Former Turkish ambassador to Iraq Unal Cevikoz now heads the Ankara Policy Forum. He says conflicts in Iraq and Syria have exacerbated regional rivalries.

"Iran is becoming a very important actor in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria," he said. "It seems Iran has certain intentions. And when we look at the Turkish Iranian relations pertaining to the situation in Iraq and Syria, it is obvious Turkey and Iran are not on the same page."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has positioned himself as an advocate of Sunni Muslim rights in the region and has been in the forefront of criticizing Tehran’s policy in Iraq and Syria.

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he arrives for a congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, May 21, 2017.
FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he arrives for a congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, May 21, 2017.

Erdogan has strongly criticized the treatment of Sunnis by Iraqi militia backed by Tehran. Ankara is one of the main supporters of Syrian rebels fighting the Damascus government supported by Iran.

The Iranian general's visit comes as Tehran, Ankara and Moscow are cooperating in what is called the Astana process to resolve the Syrian civil war. The conflict is expected to be discussed during the visit.

FILE - Participants shake hands after final statement following talks on Syrian peace in Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan. 24, 2017.
FILE - Participants shake hands after final statement following talks on Syrian peace in Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan. 24, 2017.

Idlib enclave

Political columnist Semih Idiz of the Al Monitor website says talks will include the Syrian enclave of Idlib, one of the last areas the rebel forces control.

"Idlib is a potential hornets nest. There is infighting there between two radical Islamist groups," said Idiz. "One is considered nominally more moderate and supported by Turkey and the other one more close to ISIS in sentiment. It is not clear how that is going to play out in Idlib and [Syrian President] Assad is going to take advantage of that."

Idlib borders Turkey, and there are growing concerns in Ankara that if it is overrun by Syrian government forces Turkey could experience a major refugee influx, which could include many radical jihadists. Last week Ankara closed its border crossing into Idlib due to security concerns.

FILE - Syrian refugees wait to cross the border to Turkey at Bab El-Hawa on the outskirts of Idlib, January 13, 2013.
FILE - Syrian refugees wait to cross the border to Turkey at Bab El-Hawa on the outskirts of Idlib, January 13, 2013.

The aspirations of the region’s Kurds is also expected to be on the Iranian general’s agenda in Ankara, with both countries having large and restive Kurdish minorities. Next month's independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds will provide common ground, with Tehran and Ankara strongly opposing the vote.

Your opinion

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG