GeriGündem Iraq president seeks partnership with Turkey, vows support vs PKK
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Iraq president seeks partnership with Turkey, vows support vs PKK

Turkey and Iraq tried to mend ties, which have strained in the strained in recent years mostly by the PKK issue, during Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's two day long landmark visit to Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he wants better relations and with Iraq, while Talabani proposed the creation of a political institution to improve ties between the neighbouring countries, which could be at the prime minister or foreign minister level. (UPDATED)

"I believe that we are capable of showing the necessary political will to open a new page in Turkish-Iraqi relations," Erdogan said at a luncheon in honour of Talabani, who was on his first visit to Turkey as head of state. Talabani said Iraq wanted to improve cooperation with Turkey in many areas including economy, security, politics, oil, energy and culture. Talabani, who said that Iraq shared Turkey's concerns on PKK issue, also noted that terrorism could be fought with joint activities and such "calamity" could only be overcome that way. 

Ankara has been highly critical of Baghdad's failure to crack down on several thousand PKK separatists who use a remote, mountainous part of northern Iraq as a base from which to stage attacks on targets inside Turkey. Talabani, a Kurd, said on Friday he had called on the government of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region to pressure the PKK to give up their weapons or leave the region.  

"We have requested that the Kurdish administration puts pressure on PKK units to give up their weapons or leave the region," Talabani said on Friday, referring to the government of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region. "We will never accept that they carry out armed attacks against Turkey," Talabani added at a joint news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Friday. He said that talks would be held on broadening a security cooperation agreement between the two neighboring countries. Gul's predecessor, former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, had refused to invite Talabani to Ankara because of Iraq's failure to tackle PKK.     

Gul has called in the news conference on Friday for the PKK to disarm. "No country could accept the existence of a terror group on its soil. That is why those who illegally bear weapons should lay them down," he said. "Iraqi people know best the agonies of terrorism and again they would understand the best that Turkey's fight against terror and the terrorist organization PKK," Gul said. He added Turkey and Iraq shared a common vision in bilateral relations and the future of the region, adding that ministers from the two countries will pay mutual visits in the coming days.

Following a series of deadly PKK attacks last year, Turkey's parliament in October gave the military a year-long mandate in October to mount cross-border attacks on the PKK separatists in Iraq. Turkish warplanes and artillery have been bombing and shelling PKK positions periodically over several months, helped by intelligence provided by U.S. forces in Iraq. On Feb. 21, the military launched a large-scale ground incursion, sending thousands of troops into the remote Zap Valley against the PKK. Turkey's General Staff says 240 separatists were killed in the campaign, along with 27 of Turkish security forces.

ECONOMIC TIES
Iraq's ministers of finance, oil, water resources, national security and industry were traveling with Talabani. Turkish firms are very active in the construction sector in Iraq, which is also an increasingly important market for Turkish products from food to textiles. A pipeline carries Iraqi oil to Turkey and there are also plans for a natural gas link.

Talabani said on Saturday in a speech to businessmen he wants a "strategic partnership" with Turkey. Talabani also called on Turkish businesses to invest in Iraq, saying increased oil revenues had now put his country in a position where it was able to meet payments. "We want to forge strategic relations in all fields including oil, the economy, trade, culture and politics with Turkey," he added.

State-run Anatolian Agency quoted Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani as saying Turkey could establish an oil refinery in Iraq wherever it wanted. Turkish Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen said in a speech to the Iraqi delegation that 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. "Our aim is to sign a free trade accord with Iraq within a short period of time," he added.

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