HomeWorldTurkey's top diplomat visits Iraq and seeks support against Kurdish militant group

Turkey’s top diplomat visits Iraq and seeks support against Kurdish militant group

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkey’s top diplomat was in Baghdad for high-level meetings on Thursday, ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s expected visit next month and a potential Turkish offensive against a Kurdish militant group that maintains bases in Iraq.

The talks between Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein would focus on “counter-terrorism, security and military cooperation,” according to a statement carried by the state-run Iraqi News Agency.

Fidan was accompanied by Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler and Ibrahim Kalin, the director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization.

Turkey has been seeking greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has waged an insurgency against Turkey since the 1980s and is banned there.

The PKK is not designated a terrorist organization in Iraq, but is banned from launching operations against Turkey from Iraqi territory. Nevertheless, it has a foothold in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where the central Iraqi government does not have much influence.

A joint statement issued by the two countries after Thursday’s meetings said both sides had “stressed that the PKK organization represents a security threat to both Turkey and Iraq” and that its presence in Iraq “represents a violation of the Iraqi constitution.” It said the they had “consulted on the measures that must be taken against the organization.”

Erdogan is expected to visit Iraq in April, after Turkish local elections on March 31 and after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The joint statement said officials hope the visit will represent a “qualitative shift in the relations between the two friendly neighboring countries.”

The Turkish president has said that his country is determined to end PKK’s presence in Iraq this summer.

Turkey often launches strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq that it believes to be affiliated with the PKK, which Baghdad has complained is a breach of its sovereignty.

Those strikes have escalated in recent months, after PKK attacks on Turkish military bases in northern Iraq in December and January left 21 soldiers dead. Local Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria have said that many of the Turkish strikes targeted civilian infrastructure, cutting off electricity and water supplies in wide areas held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Qassim al-Araji, the adviser for national security affairs to Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, said in a televised interview this week that Iraqi authorities would like to take a similar approach to the PKK as they did to Iranian Kurdish dissident groups based in northern Iraq.

The presence of the Iranian dissidents had become a point of tension with Tehran and last summer, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to disarm the dissident groups and relocate their members from military bases to displacement camps.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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