Iraqi PM in Turkey for security talks
( Reuters ) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki flew to Turkey on Tuesday for talks on fighting Kurdish separatist guerrillas who use his country as a base.
Ankara has boosted troop levels in its southeast region to more than 200,000, many of them along the border with Iraq, to try to prevent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels crossing into Turkey to attack military and civilian targets.
Maliki, on a one-day visit to Ankara, is expected to promise cooperation on security and may agree to classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but he is virtually powerless to act in autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq where the rebels are hiding.
"Our talks are aimed at increasing cooperation in the areas of security, trade and economy," Turkey's state Anatolian news agency quoted Maliki as saying at Ankara airport on his arrival, flanked by his oil, foreign, interior and other ministers.
Turkish officials are aware that Maliki is in a weak position to deliver on any pledges since 17 ministers -- nearly half his government -- have quit or decided to boycott meetings.
"I expect Maliki at least to make a statement that will soothe Turkey ... But it will be in the form of recognising the PKK as a terrorist organisation and giving some promises rather than taking action," said Nihat Ali Ozcan of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).
"The Iraq government does not have the power to take a decision and dictate it to the administration in northern Iraq."
The head of northern Iraq's Kurdish administration, Massoud Barzani, has rejected Turkish demands to crack down on the PKK.
The United States and the Baghdad government, alarmed by the Turkish troop buildup along the border, have urged Ankara to avoid any military action that could destabilise Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish north.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and top army generals have refused to rule out military action, though they know this would not achieve the aim of destroying the PKK.
Military and political pressure on Erdogan to send troops into Iraq has to some extent subsided since his centre-right AK Party won re-election last month.
But with nationalists in the new parliament and continued PKK attacks on Turkish troops, he will want to be seen to deliver a tough message to Maliki in order to deflect charges his government is weak on fighting terrorism.
Ankara will urge Maliki to close down PKK offices in Iraq, hand over senior PKK commanders, cut off weapons and food supplies to the rebels and block the group's television and radio broadcasts.
Erdogan and Maliki are due to give a joint news conference later on Tuesday. Maliki will then leave for a visit to Iran.
NATO member Turkey says there are up to 3,100 PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq. Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since 1984 when the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.
Erdogan will also urge Maliki on Tuesday to postpone a planned referendum on the future of ethnically divided Kirkuk.
Turkey opposes plans by Iraqi Kurds to make the oil-rich city the capital of their autonomous region, fearing this would boost support for separatism among Turkey's own large Kurdish population.