Turkey, the US and Iraq will set up a joint center in northern Iraq to curb Turkish Kurd rebels taking refuge in the region, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Friday.
“The plan is to set up a joint command of representatives from the three parties in Arbil,” Zebari, on a three-day visit to Turkey, told reporters after talks with Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan.
It would be “a key center to work together to ... ensure border security and prevent cross-border attacks on Turkey,” he said.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has long taken refuge in mountainous bases in northern Iraq, using the region as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets across the border.
Zebari called the PKK a “poisonous element” in bilateral ties, stressing that both the Baghdad government and the Kurdish administration of northern Iraq were determined to cooperate with Turkey to tackle the problem.
“There will be a combination of political, economic, military and intelligence measures to remove this poisonous element in our relations,” he said.
The center in Arbil, he said, will be part of recently inaugurated trilateral consultations between Turkey, the US and Iraq to outline measures to curb the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community.
It would serve as “a field center to coordinate all activities on the ground,” he said.
A Turkish diplomat, who requested anonymity, said the center would deal mostly with sharing intelligence on the PKK.
Ankara has often accused the Iraqi Kurds, who run an autonomous administration in northern Iraq, of tolerating and even aiding the rebels.
But in a policy shift last year, it said it would seek to resolve the issue through diplomacy and intensified contacts with the Iraqi Kurds, whom it had long snubbed.
Iraqi Kurds are now included in the three-way talks and Zebari on Friday hailed the dialogue as “a new climate of understanding and cooperation.”
Babacan also acknowledged “a more positive atmosphere” between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds, but added that “steps producing concrete results [against the PKK] should become more frequent on the ground.”
He stressed that “ending the activities of this organization is a must for the full normalization of Turkish-Iraqi relations.”
Since December 2007 Turkish warplanes have bombed PKK hideouts in the region under a parliamentary authorization, which expires in October.
The PKK took up arms for self-rule in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives.
Zebari was to wrap up his visit today after a trip to Istanbul.
He and Babacan, along with other ministers, will meet again late next month or early March in Istanbul to discuss cooperation in various realms such as security, trade and transport, a Turkish diplomat said.