Iraq takes first step to combat PKK on its soil

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki exchange a memorandum of understanding after a signing ceremony in Ankara.

Iraq takes first step to combat PKK on its soil
Turkey and neighboring Iraq agreed yesterday to work to end the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraqi territory after several hours of prime ministerial talks in Ankara. The two countries also signed a deal to expand cooperation in energy.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki exchange a memorandum of understanding after a signing ceremony in Ankara. Maliki assured Turkey that Iraq will not allow the presence of terror groups on its soil.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding to end the PKK presence in Iraq," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a joint press conference with his visiting Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki. He also said the two countries agreed to speed up work to finalize a counterrrorism agreement to combat the PKK, which has escalated attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

"We agreed on the fight against terrorist organizations, including the PKK," Maliki said. "Iraq will not allow the presence of these organizations on its soil. We sincerely hope for cooperation in the field of security."

Turkey has long been urging Iraq and the United States to take measures to crack down on the PKK, which has camps in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Ankara has made clear that it would take the matters into its own hands and carry out a cross-border operation into northern Iraq if appeals to Iraq and the United States are not heeded.

Yesterday's deal is a step by Iraq in the direction of meeting Turkey's expectations. But Maliki declined to sign a counterterrorism agreement as requested by Turkish authorities, saying it was not in his power to commit Baghdad to the agreement without first putting it before parliament and his Cabinet, an Iraqi government official said.

The Turkish and Iraqi interior ministries had been negotiating such a pact, but the official said al-Maliki was caught off guard when asked to sign an agreement on Tuesday. "Al-Maliki offered to sign a memorandum instead, saying that fell within his powers. He told the Turks that signing this agreement would impose commitments that the Iraqis might not be able to carry out," the official was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Erdoğan said an Iraqi delegation, probably headed by the Iraqi interior minister, will soon visit Turkey for negotiations. The memorandum of understanding commits the two countries to concluding the counterterrorism deal in two months.

The memorandum of understanding came amid a deepening political crisis in Maliki's Cabinet at home and Turkish concerns that Iraqi Kurds, who run the semi-autonomous northern Iraq, would refuse to take any steps against the PKK. Asked whether the memorandum would be binding for the Iraqi Kurds as well, Maliki said it was binding for all the country.

The visiting prime minister also made it clear his government sees the PKK as a terrorist organization, a commitment Iraq has so far refused to make. "We said in the document that we will cooperate in the fight against terrorist groups, most notably the PKK," he said in remarks simultaneously translated into Turkish when asked whether he would call the PKK a terrorist organization.

Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, hailed yesterday's deal, saying it signifies "the opening of a new page in relations with Iraq." An official said the document provided a "vision for the future" and "clearly sets the legal framework for cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

Economic cooperation

Maliki, who visited Ankara with a strong delegation of 30 senior officials including six ministers, also expressed satisfaction that the trade volume with Turkey had increased to $3 billion in 2006, from less than $1 billion in 2003, and invited Turkish contractors to play a bigger role in Iraqi reconstruction.

The energy ministers of the two countries signed a document to expand cooperation in the field of energy. "Turkey and Iraq will build thermal power stations. Their number will be decided after bilateral talks, but I can say one will be in Iraq and one will be in Turkey," Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler told reporters. The deal also includes enlarging and renovating electricity transmission lines and cooperation on oil exploration, he said.

Erdoğan said Turkey would open a new consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and Maliki said Iraq wanted to open a consulate in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey.

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Last Mod: 08 Ağustos 2007, 16:19
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