Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met Iraq's premier Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Thursday as the neighbors sought to boost ties by signing deals from energy to water sharing and fighting PKK rebels.
Relations between Ankara and Baghdad have been strained in the past by the presence of Kurdish separatist rebels who use northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks on southeast Turkey.
But trade and diplomatic ties have bloomed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein and as regional heavyweight Turkey has sought to expand its influence in the Middle East under Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party government.
The two countries have estimated trade worth more than $5 billion but there is enormous potential for the future as European Union-candidate Turkey aims to position itself as a vital energy and trade corridor with its eastern neighbors, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and the South Caucasus.
Erdogan flew to Baghdad accompanied by nine ministers who planned to meet their Iraqi counterparts and sign a total of 44 agreements, including a memorandum of understanding to transport Iraqi natural gas to Europe via Turkey, Turkish officials said.
They said they also expected talks on boosting cooperation in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatist guerrilla group.
Agreements on water sharing, transportation, health, agriculture, education and engineering were also due to be signed under the so-called High Strategic Collaboration meeting.
"The fundamental aim of the High Strategic Collaboration in our region is the establishment of comprehensive economic unity and cooperation," Erdogan said ahead of the trip in Ankara.
Turkey and Syria held a similar meeting on Tuesday.
Under international sanctions imposed on Saddam, trade between Turkey and Iraq choked to a trickle. Turkey's complaint that Baghdad was doing little to crack down on PKK rebels also poisoned ties.
But trade improved dramatically after the 2003 invasion, with Turkish companies playing a leading role in reconstruction.
Ankara and Baghdad now hold periodic security meetings with the United States to cooperate on fighting the PKK.
Turkey and four EU countries signed a transit deal in July for the $7.9-billion-euro EU-backed Nabucco pipeline to carry Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to central Europe, aiming to cut dependency on Russia. Iraq has said it wants to be a supplier.
Turkish officials said the two countries also planned to extend an agreement over an Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, complete new power lines and boost the capacity of existing ones between the two countries.
In September, Turkey agreed to release more water from the Euphrates river to drought-ravaged Iraq, increasing the outflow to between 450 and 500 cubic meters per second until Oct. 20.
Only a few months before that, Iraqi lawmakers agreed to block any pact signed with Turkey, Iran or Syria that did not include a clause giving Iraq a fairer share of water resources.
"We welcome this visit, and we look for positive relations between the two countries. But we remind the government of Iraq to include in the agreements signed with Turkey an article to ensure Iraq's share of the Tigris and Euphrates waters," Karim al-Yaqubi, a member of parliament's water committee, told Reuters by telephone.
PKK rebels have been fighting for 25 years for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey. Turkey has bombed and shelled PKK areas in northern Iraq using intelligence provided by Washington. Turkey's attacks are believed to have greatly weakened the Kurdish guerrillas, whose attacks on
Turkey have dropped in recent months.
Some 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK took up arms in 1984.