ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkey and Iraq signed an anti-terrorism deal on Friday targeting Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq, but failed to agree on a plan that would have let Turkish troops chase militants across their shared border.
Ankara claims the right under international law to send its troops across the mountainous border in “hot pursuit” of guerrillas of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but Iraqi Kurds opposed any concession by Baghdad on this issue. “We could not reach agreement on the article concerning improvement of border security cooperation. Our negotiations on this issue will continue,” Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay said after the signing ceremony.
Under the accord, the two countries pledged to take all necessary measures, including financial and intelligence, to combat the PKK and other militant groups. They will hold six-monthly meetings to coordinate their work. “The agreement is very important for Iraq,” said Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, adding his government would do all in its power to implement the measures. But Turkish diplomats know the central Baghdad government has little clout in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq whose authorities are loathe to take action against their ethnic kin in the PKK. On the “hot pursuit” issue, Bolani said: “We want to choose the most effective mechanism for both sides.”
An earlier draft text of the agreement had suggested Ankara ask Baghdad for permission each time it wanted to conduct “hot pursuit” raids into Iraqi territory.
But this was unacceptable to Turkey, which diplomats say carries out occasional cross-border forays. Ankara says having to ask Baghdad for permission each time would hamper its operations against the guerrillas.
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group began its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in 1984.
An estimated 3,000 PKK guerrillas use northern Iraq as a springboard from which to attack security and civilian targets inside Turkish territory.
Turkish generals and politicians, exasperated by a steady stream of PKK attacks, have threatened to mount a full-scale invasion of northern Iraq to crush the PKK there. But the United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, has advised against such a move, fearing it would destabilise a relatively peaceful region.
Friday’s agreement follows three days of talks and fleshes out promises on combating the PKK made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a visit to the Turkish capital last month.
Ankara believes Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani aims to build an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and fears this could trigger separatist sentiment among its large ethnic Kurdish population in southeast Turkey. But analysts note Ankara would have great leverage over any future Kurdish state whose energy pipelines and trade with the outside world would mostly pass via Turkish territory.