Iraq seeks partnership with Turkey

Iraq's president said Saturday that he wants to promote more Turkish investment in his country, where Turkish troops recently carried out an eight-day ground incursion. ( AP )

Jalal Talabani spoke to members of a Turkish-Iraqi business group at the end of a visit aimed at easing tensions caused by Turkey's offensive against Kurdish rebels inside Iraq.

Talabani, himself a Kurd, says Iraq wants "to forge strategic relations in all fields, including oil, the economy, trade, culture and politics with Turkey." He suggested that the two countries set up a body whose aim would be to strengthen ties between the neighbors.

Turkey is already an active economic player in Iraq. Despite the political tensions, Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region has relied heavily on Turkish food imports as well as Turkish investment in construction works and Turkish electricity.

The Iraqi president arrived in Turkey on Friday, about a week after the Turkish military ended its offensive against the rebels.

The insurgents - who seek autonomy for Kurds in Turkey's southeast - have often launched attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. Talabani said the rebels would not be tolerated inside Iraq's borders and that the government was pressuring them to lay down their arms.

Turkey launched its cross-border ground operation against rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on Feb. 21. The Turkish military said it inflicted heavy losses on a large group of rebels in Iraq's Zap region. The PKK has disputed the claim.

The PKK has said it wants political and cultural autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish region of southeastern Turkey. The conflict started in 1984 and has since killed tens of thousands of people.

Also Saturday, PKK rebels released a man they had taken hostage a day earlier in a southern Turkish province on the border with Syria, Turkey's state-run media reported.

Rebels hiding in a mountainous part of Hatay province kidnapped the man, Mehmet Simsek, on Friday after they killed his friend. The rebels had accused his friend of informing the Turkish security forces of their whereabouts.

Iraq's oil minister said Saturday that his government will not recognize any oil deals that the northern Kurdish self-governing region has unilaterally inked with foreign companies.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has approved several contracts with international companies, causing tensions with the Iraqi government, which is seeking centralized control over the country's oil resources.

"The central government is in charge of the administration of natural resources and agreements not approved by the central government will not be recognized," Iraq's oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani said after a meeting with Turkey's Energy Minister Hilmi Guler.

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