The prime ministers of Turkey and Iraq vowed on Wednesday to step up their cooperation against Turkish Kurdish rebels whose presence in neighboring northern Iraq has cast a shadow over relations.
The thorny issue of rebels from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) taking shelter in Iraqi mountains along the border was at the center of talks during a brief visit to Ankara by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“We should not allow terrorist organizations, in particular the PKK, to weaken our relations,” Maliki said during a working lunch with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which followed a meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Erdogan said the fight against “terrorism” was a common issue for the neighboring nations.
“Our joint fight will continue,” he said.
Maliki later told reporters that a mechanism of three-way talks between Iraq, Turkey and the US, set up last month, was tasked with doing “what is necessary ... against any activities by the PKK.”
“We have a common understanding that it is a terrorist organization,” he said.
Hundreds of militants from the PKK are holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq, which they use as a launching pad for cross-border attacks on Turkish targets.
Turkish warplanes have since last year bombed rebel hideouts in the region.
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 earlier this 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.
A senior Turkish official said on Wednesday Ankara “sees signs” that the Iraqi Kurds are willing to cooperate against the PKK.