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Turkey, Iraq Agree to Cooperate
07/08/2007
ANKARA, Turkey -

Turkey and Iraq agreed to try to root out a Kurdish rebel group from northern Iraq, but Iraq's prime minister said he could not sign an agreement implementing the promise until it was put to his parliament.

"We have reached an agreement to spend all efforts to end the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK in Iraq," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki.

Erdogan said the leaders signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to speed up work to finalize a counterterrorism agreement to combat the Kurdish guerrillas who have escalated their attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

"Within a short period of time, a large delegation under the leadership of the (Iraqi) interior minister will visit. Security officials will come together and seal an agreement," Erdogan said.

Turkey has threatened to stage an incursion into northern Iraq unless Iraq or the United States cracked down on the separatist rebel group. The envisaged counterterrorism agreement is aimed at forcing Iraq to officially commit itself to fighting the rebels.

Iraq's cooperation could possibly avert a Turkish incursion, which is opposed by Washington. The United States says the PKK is a terrorist group, but U.S. forces are consumed by chaos elsewhere in Iraq and want to preserve the Kurdish-dominated north as a rare spot of relative stability.

Al-Maliki's already shaky government has been hit with a series of Cabinet desertions by both Shiite and Sunni Arabs, although the Kurdish portion of his coalition has held fast so far. But some members are questioning their participation, and the prime minister's recalcitrance on signing a counterterrorism agreement could be laid to his fear of angering the Kurds.

"We have signed a memorandum of understanding that includes our ideas. This preliminary agreement (the memorandum) will be moved to field and technical committees to be turn our wish to combat terrorism into practical measures and mechanisms between the two sides," al-Maliki said.

While reaching agreement on Kurdish rebels, al-Maliki refused to sign the counterterrorism agreement requested by the Turkish authorities, saying it was not in his power to commit Baghdad to the agreement without first putting it before parliament and his Cabinet, an Iraqi government official said.

The Turkish and Iraqi Interior Ministries had been negotiating such a pact, but the official said al-Maliki was caught off-guard when asked to sign an agreement Tuesday.

"Al-Maliki offered to sign a memorandum instead, saying that fell within his powers. ... He told the Turks that signing this agreement would impose commitments that Iraqis might not be able to carry out," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

However, al-Maliki promised to cooperate with Turkey in combatting Kurdish rebels.

"We in Iraq are victims of terrorism. We understand what Turkey wants," al-Maliki said, assuring cooperation with Turkey. "We have said that we will establish cooperation against all terrorist organizations, prominently against the PKK."

Al-Maliki, responding to a question, said agreements signed by the central government would be binding for the Kurdish administration, which has been accused by Turkey of turning a blind eye to the activities of the PKK.

"Kurdistan is part of Iraq and agreements signed between countries puts the entire country under responsibility and would be binding for the sides," al-Maliki said.

The PKK, which has had bases in northern Iraq for decades, has killed tens of thousands in attacks since taking up arms for autonomy in southeastern Turkey in 1984.

Turkey's patience has been running thin amid escalated fighting that has left about 80 Turkish soldiers dead so far this year.

Turkey recently reinforced its troops on the Iraqi border, and the military said it was waiting for government orders to move in. Turkey's parliament must endorse any cross-border military offensive.

On Tuesday, Kurdish rebels killed a lieutenant and wounded two pro-government village guards in a roadside bomb attack in the southeastern province of Hakkari, bordering Iraq and Iran, while Turkish generals attended the funeral of a noncommissioned officer, also killed by rebels, in the capital.

Associated Press writers Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.



Turkey, Iraq Agree to Cooperate -  Source


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