Neighboring countries Iraq and Turkey have finally agreed on details of a counterterrorism agreement to crack down on members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that are holed up in bases in northern Iraq and have also decided to sign the finalized agreement today in the Turkish capital.
The deal will require Turkish security forces to seek Iraqi authorization to cross into Iraq for small-scale operations to pursue PKK members, Iraqi and Turkish sources have said. The mutual agreement made on Wednesday was reached through an approximately one-and-a half-hour-long talk between visiting Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Boulani and his Turkish counterpart, BeÅŸir Atalay.
Turkey has long been pressing Iraq for a counterterrorism pact to crack down on the PKK and has threatened to stage a military incursion into northern Iraq to eradicate terrorist bases there if US or Iraqi forces failed to take action against the group.
Speaking to reporters following yesterday’s meeting in Ankara, Iraqi Interior Ministry Undersecretary Aidin Khalid said the sides had reached an agreement on Wednesday and a deal would be signed on Thursday. Officials would work on Turkish, Arabic and English versions of the text, he said. Under the agreement, Turkey will seek Iraqi authorization for future “hot pursuit” operations — cross-border military offensives aimed at tracking down and eliminating armed PKK groups that are limited in time, scale and scope. Khalid would not confirm that the agreement would allow Turkish troops to engage in hot pursuits. “Everything will become clear tomorrow,” he said.
By maintaining a legal basis for a cross-border operation or hot pursuit of PKK terrorists via the eventual counterterrorism agreement with Iraq, the ongoing fight by Turkish security forces against the PKK is expected to be made much more effective. An agreement to that effect was signed between Turkey and Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era.
Boulaniâ€™s visit is a follow-up to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) exchanged in early August between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, during an official visit by the latter to the Turkish capital. In the MoU, the PKK was declared a terrorist organization, with Maliki assuring Turkey that Iraq will not allow the presence of terrorist groups within its borders. Due to domestic political turmoil in Iraq, Boulani had to postpone his visit for one month.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the two neighbors, Ali Babacan and Hoshyar Zebari, who are both in New York for a general assembly meeting of the United Nations, held a bilateral meeting on Tuesday, wherein the Iraqi minister pledged that his government stands firm behind the MoU signed in the summer.
During the meeting, Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari expressed regret over the way some of his recent remarks were interpreted in the Turkish media. Earlier this week, Zebari, who also accompanied Maliki during his visit to Ankara, indicated that the Turkish side had at the time wanted to push for certain elements in the finalized agreement, causing a delay in the process. The Turkish foreign ministry had rejected Zebariâ€™s comments on the drafting process of the MoU, saying that the Iraqi side fully consented to the content of the deal. Zebari told Babacan he was not against finalizing the agreement but was opposed instead to the signing of an agreement hastily without discussing all details, reliable sources told Todayâ€™s Zaman in New York.
When reminded by Babacan of the recent, considerable escalation in PKK terrorist attacks, Zebari said he was also extremely uneasy at this fact. Earlier this month, Babacan lost a close relative in a fight between Turkish security forces and the PKK. Young conscript Erkut Babacan, 21, his cousin, was martyred last week in an overnight PKK attack on a Turkish military outpost near the southeastern province of Bitlis.
Zebari explained that the Iraqi side has been exerting intense efforts to ensure wide participation in a major international meeting on Iraq in Ä°stanbul, scheduled for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. The Ä°stanbul conference, which will be attended by foreign ministers of the countries neighboring Iraq, the G-8 members and the permanent members of the UN Security Council, is a follow-up to the Sharm el-Sheikh gathering and is expected to focus on ways to stabilize Iraq amid debates on US troop withdrawal.
The Iraqi minister also welcomed the idea of establishing a permanent secretariat for regular gatherings of the foreign ministers of the countries neighboring Iraq, gatherings which have been held since 2003 upon Turkeyâ€™s initiative. The idea was presented by Babacan last week at a key meeting held in New York in the margins of the UN General Assembly session and co-chaired by Maliki and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Meanwhile, at a meeting of the UN-led Alliance of Civilizationsâ€™ initiative, co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, Babacan met on Tuesday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York. Also on Tuesday, Washington chose to remain silent in the face of harsh criticism of the US by a top Turkish military commander who said this week that the Turkish military has almost no patience left for US inaction over threats posed by PKK members based in northern Iraq. Turkey is pushing the United States, which has had forces in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, to contribute to Turkeyâ€™s fight against the PKK with concrete steps to eliminate the organizationâ€™s presence there. Regarding Turkeyâ€™s demands on the issue, Washington consistently says it is committed to jointly working with Turkey in the fight against the PKK within the framework of a trilateral mechanism between Ankara, Baghdad and Washington. Yet Ankara does not seem to place high hopes in the de facto but inactive trilateral mechanism, attributing considerably high importance to a strong bilateral cooperation with its neighbor on the ground.
In Ankara on Wednesday Turkish and Iraqi officials decided to open liaison offices at Turkish and Iraqi missions in the two countries, as well as on both sides of the border between the two countries, in order to coordinate efforts against the PKK. During his meeting with Babacan, Zebari also gave positive messages about opening a new border gate between Turkey and Iraq, while expressing pleasure over Turkeyâ€™s plans for opening a new consulate general in Basra. A hotline for use in emergency cases will also be established between the officials of the two countries.
Todayâ€™s Zaman AnkaraÂ