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Turkish PM visits Iraq, talks Kurds

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Latest update : 2008-07-11

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iraq for the first time Thursday, offering help with Iraq's reconstruction, while Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki offered support against Kurdish rebels on their common border.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on his first trip to Iraq, said on Thursday Baghdad and Kurdish leaders had offered support in Turkey's battle against Kurdish rebels and that Ankara would assist Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
  
"We received support from Nuri al-Maliki's government and the Kurdistan regional government against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party)," Erdogan told reporters during a joint news conference with Iraq's prime minister Maliki.
  
"The PKK is a threat not only to Iraq and Turkey but to the whole region. We don't allow such organisations to poison the relations between the two countries," he said.
  
"There is a joint understanding concerning this issue. There is a joint will to remove the organisation."
  
Ankara charges that more than 2,000 Kurdish rebels have found a safe haven in northern Iraq, where they are able to obtain weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.
  
Turkish troops regularly carry out cross-border raids inside northern Iraq, aided by intelligence from the United States, which like the European Union sees the PKK as a terrorist group.
  
The PKK sees itself as an independence organisation and has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
  
Speaking after his talks with Maliki in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, Erdogan also pledged Ankara's support for reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country.
  
"I salute the people of Iraq with whom we have lived together for long. Be optimistic that this difficult situation will pass. Inshallah (God willing) you will find me always beside you to defeat your difficulties."
  
Erdogan said he discussed several matters with Maliki, including the issue of Kirkuk, Iraq's key oil hub and a city claimed by both the Arabs and the Kurds.
  
"We would like to have a joint agreement between all the communities of Kirkuk. We promise to give the people more than they expect and we will be by their side when they need," he said.
  
Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds want to make part of their autonomous region in the north, has a large population of Sunni and Shiite Arabs, as well as Turkmen, making for a fragile ethnic mix.
  
Turkey sees itself as the traditional protector of the Turkmen community who, together with the Arabs, complain of being bullied by the Kurds who make up half the population of the city.
  
With its own large Kurdish minority, Turkey has viewed the increasing independence of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region with deep misgivings.
  
In February, Turkish troops conducted a week-long ground offensive against a PKK camp in the Zap area. The operation left more than 200 rebels dead, according to the Turkish army.
  
A joint statement, meanwhile, said Baghdad and Ankara had decided to set up a high level team to address strategic issues, including "supporting the efforts of the Iraqi government in fighting terrorism and preserving Iraq's independence, full sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity against threats."
  
The two countries also agreed to prevent the "transit of terrorists and illegal arms to and from Iraq" and emphasized they would work towards "strengthening cooperation to control their common borders... and also expedite opening of new border gates," the statement said.
  
They would also look into building a pipeline network to transport natural gas from Iraq to international markets via Turkey.
  
On his arrival at Baghdad's international airport Thursday morning, Erdogan was accorded a red-carpet welcome by Maliki and given a guard of honour.
  
Erdogan is only the second leader from one of Iraq's neighbours to visit since the March 2003 invasion, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a historic trip in March.

Date created : 2008-07-11

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