Turkey and Iraq boost security and political ties

Türkiye Materials 10 July 2008 19:41 (UTC +04:00)

The prime ministers of Iraq and Turkey signed Thursday in Baghdad an agreement to boost political and security cooperation and acknowledged the need for joint international efforts to fight terrorism, reported dpa.

The signing came soon after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a visit to Iraq, which his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al- Maliki, described as historic and the first of its kind in 18 years.

After their talks in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, Erdogan and al-Maliki announced the establishment of a joint committee which will meet twice a year with the aim of boosting political, economic and security cooperation.

Baghdad's relations with Ankara have been at times strained by Turkish military offensives against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which launches attacks inside Turkey from hideouts in the mountains of northern Iraq.

"As much as we are tied by common bonds, we also face common challenges, one of which is confronting terrorism," al-Maliki said.

The Iraqi premier blamed terrorist groups for torpedoing Baghdad's efforts to revamp its economy and upgrade its oil industry.

Despite a decrease in violence in Iraq this year, deadly attacks claiming the lives of civilians and security personnel are still a daily occurrence.

Turkey itself has been the scene of terrorist attack in recent years, the last of which was an attack on the US consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday.

But Ankara's main concern is PKK rebels working from northern Iraq, prompting it to launch several air strikes against PKK targets since December and conduct a week-long ground operation against rebel positions in February.

The military operations further strained its ties with Iraq and with the Kurdish Autonomous Region in the north.

"Air strikes have been coordinated with the coalition forces (in Iraq) and the Iraqi government," Erdogan said at a press briefing after his talks with al-Maliki.

Both countries signed an anti-terror deal in September but failed to reach an agreement on border security.

The Turkish offensive launched in February on the territories of Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region raised alarm in an increasingly independent region that has strong ethnic sympathy for Kurds fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

However, Iraq's Kurds hailed Erdogan's visit despite their apprehension over Turkish cross-border raids.

Erdogan's visit will boost bilateral trade to five billion dollars, a Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament, Mahmoud Othman said.

However, he was less optimistic about the PKK issue.

"I don't think there will be a positive progress in the issue of PKK and Turkish cross-border raid," Othman told the Voices of Iraq news agency.

The PKK has been blacklisted as a terrorist group by the European Union and the US. dpa sf ds