|Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki agreed to strengthen mutual political and economic relations in a meeting in Baghdad, referred to as "historical" by both leaders. Erdogan, who paid his first official visit to Iraq, is the first Turkish prime minister to visit Iraq after 18 years. (UPDATED)
"We held the first meeting of the Strategic Cooperation High Council between Turkey and Iraq, in which myself, and Mr. Maliki are co-chairmen. This council will shape our common future," Erdogan told at a joint press conference with Maliki in Baghdad.
The Council will hold at least one meeting a year with prime ministers, and three representatives at the ministerial level.
"I am pleased about the hospitality displayed towards me in Baghdad. As the first Turkish prime minister visiting Iraq after 18 years, I am pleased to be here with my brothers and sisters," Erdogan said, adding his visit to Iraq carried historical importance for not only bilateral relations but also the region itself.
"I am confident that from now on we will not wait for another 18 years before a Turkish prime minister visits Iraq. The agreement we have signed on Thursday for the establishment of a high strategic cooperation council is a symbol of our determination to promote relations," he added.
Maliki said Iraq and Turkey were poised for a new era of cooperation, adding both countries have "common challenges", which they should fight together, and they were making gains in the struggle against terrorism.
The PKK has been at the top of the agenda during Erdogan's Iraq visit. Turkey held numerous air operations to crackdown PKK militants in the northern Iraq, and launched an eight-day long cross-border operation in February.
Erdogan said the Baghdad government was informed of Turkey's operations against PKK positions. "Eradicating the PKK terrorist organization is the most important task of both Turkey and Iraq," he added.
"The separatist terrorist organization PKK is an enemy of not only Turkey but Iraq as well," Erdogan said, Turkey have always supported the territorial integrity and political union of Iraq and will continue to do so.
"The PKK terror is a threat to our common future. We thank for the support extended by my brother al-Maliki and the regional administration in north of Iraq on the PKK issue," he said.
Turkey's operations in Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region often draw protests from Baghdad. Ankara, for its part, has been highly critical of Baghdad's failure to deal with the several thousand guerrillas holed up in the north. The PKK uses northern Iraq as a base to stage attacks on targets inside neighboring Turkey.
Erdogan also said: "We hope the pain in Iraq would end. We, as Turkey, are ready to do whatever is needed to help Iraq reach stability."
"We plan to improve our relations with Iraq in the areas of politics, security, defense, energy, economy, culture and water resources," he added.
"We hope to carry our trade volume with Iraq to $25 billion in the next 3-4 years," Erdogan also said.
Maliki called on Turkish companies to take a part in the restructuring process of Iraq. Turkey is one of Iraq's most important trading partners.
Turkish firms and products dominate northern Iraq's economy, and Turkish state energy firm, TPAO is in oil exploration talks.
Exports of oil from Iraq's northern Kirkuk fields flow through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. There are also plans for a natural gas link.
During Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's visit to Ankara, Turkey's trade minister said bilateral trade between the two countries was targeted to reach $20 billion within two years, compared with more than $3.5 billion in 2007 and $940 million in 2003.
The Turkish prime minister later met Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on his one-day visit to Baghdad.
Erdogan was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler and Prime Ministry Chief Advisor Ahmet Davutoglu during his visit. Tight security measures have been taken in Baghdad.
The Turkish ministers accompanying Erdogan also hold bilateral talks with their Iraqi counterparts after the luncheon hosted by al-Maliki in Erdogans honor. The Turkish delegation will later meet Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Meshadani.
Erdogan and the accompanying delegation are expected to return to Turkey in the evening after attending dinner to be hosted by Talabani in his honor. Referans columnist Cengiz Candar, who accompanies Erdogan during his visit, told broadcaster CNNTurk, Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq, could join the dinner if he is able to return to the country from a visit abroad.