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Turkey Keeps Watchful Eye on Succession of Iraqi Kurd Leadership

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Prime Minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Nechirvan Barzani shake hands before a meeting in Istanbul, Nov. 23, 2016.

Ankara is anticipating who will succeed Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, following his announcement he plans to quit. Relations between Ankara and Iraqi Kurds, once close allies, collapsed after Barzani held an independence referendum. But Ankara could be eyeing his nephew as an ideal successor.

Turkey made little secret of its pleasure at Sunday's announcement by Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani that he is planning to step down. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Barzani for holding an independence referendum, which Ankara feared could fuel similar secessionist demands among its own restive Kurdish minority.

A still image taken from a video shows Kurdish President Masoud Barzani giving a televised speech in Erbil, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2017.
A still image taken from a video shows Kurdish President Masoud Barzani giving a televised speech in Erbil, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2017.

At his weekly news conference, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin made clear Ankara was already looking to who will lead Iraqi Kurds going forward.

"A new tableau appears when the term of office of Masoud Barzani is not extended and there will be a transfer of his duties to Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani," Kalin said.

Nechirvan Barzani, a nephew of outgoing President Masoud Barzani, is widely seen as by Turkey as the ideal future leader. Being a regular visitor to Ankara, Nechirvan has developed close ties with Erdogan. The Iraqi Kurdish prime minister's coolness towards the independence referendum will likely enhance his credentials in Ankara.

His close ties with Turkey reportedly extend to significant personal business investments. Analysts say he is also seen by Turkey's political leaders as sympathetic to its calls for more help in its war against the Kurdish rebel group PKK, which is has many bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen established Turkey's consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan. He said while Nechirvan Barzani is viewed as the ideal new leader of Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey is being careful not to be seen to be interfering in the succession process.

"We know that Mr. Nechirvan Barzani's relations with Ankara are best when compared to other political figures in Iraqi Kurdistan," he said. "So that would be seen as a welcome development [by Ankara], although judging by the statement of Mr. [Mevlut] Cavusolgu, who is the foreign minister of Turkey, the official position of Ankara is that this is the internal political affairs of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, so Ankara will not have an official reaction to this development."

Despite Nechirvan Barzani's close ties with Ankara, the Turkish president has refused to meet him along with the rest of the Iraqi Kurdish leadership for several months, a result of the collapse in relations between the once-close allies.

But Turkish presidential spokesman Kalin said a future request by the Iraqi Kurdish prime minister would now be considered, but will hinge on unspecified conditions being met by the Iraqi Kurds.Ankara is demanding the Iraqi Kurdish leadership annul the result of October's referendum vote, in which 93 percent of Kurds voted in favor of independence.

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