Iraqi PM holds talks in Turkey

Nuri al-Maliki in discussions on how to curb Kurdish separatist fighters in Iraq.

    Erdogan, right, is thought to have urged Maliki to postpone a referendum on the future of Kirkuk [AFP]

    Al-Maliki said: "Our discussions were extensive ... and positive. We agreed that we should join hands to find solutions ... to force the PKK out of Iraqi soil."

    Al Jazeera exclusive

    Watch Hoda Abdel-Hamid's report from Irbil in Iraq

    However, the two sides were unable to conclude an official co-operation agreement on how they would tackle the PKK issue.

    Both sides emphasised that economic discussions had played a major part in the talks.

    Erdogan said: "We discussed how Iraq's gas could be offered to the world through Turkey."

    The Turkish prime minister also said that Turkey had decided to open a consulate in Basra in southern Iraq.

    Weak position

    Al-Maliki's visit comes at a time when Turkey has warned that it does not rule out a cross-border operation to strike at PKK bases in northern Iraq if Baghdad and Washington fail to curb the rebels.

    Turkish officials are aware that al-Maliki is in a weak position to deliver on any pledges since 17 ministers, nearly half of his government, have quit or decided to boycott meetings.

    Nihat Ali Ozcan, of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), said: "I expect al-Maliki at least to make a statement that will soothe Turkey... But it will be in the form of recognising the PKK as a terrorist organisation and giving some promises rather than taking action.

    "The Iraq government does not have the power to take a decision and dictate it to the administration in northern Iraq."

    Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Irbil, said of al-Maliki: "His government is paralysed. He has very little support.

    "He is in a very difficult position, both trying to please Ankara and trying to please the Kurds."

    Massoud Barzani, the head of northern Iraq's Kurdish administration, has rejected Turkish demands to crack down on the PKK.

    Military option

    The United States and the Baghdad government, alarmed by the Turkish troop buildup along the border, have urged Ankara to avoid military action that could destabilise Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish north.

    But Erdogan and his army generals have refused to rule out force.

    Military and political pressure on Erdogan to send troops into Iraq has, to some extent, subsided since his centre-right AK party won re-election last month.

    But with nationalists in the new parliament and continued PKK attacks on Turkish troops, he will want to be seen to deliver a tough message to al-Maliki in order to deflect charges his government is weak on fighting "terrorism".

    Kirkuk debate

    Ankara will urge al-Maliki to close down PKK offices in Iraq, hand over senior PKK commanders, cut off weapons and food supplies to the fighter's and block the group's television and radio broadcasts.

    The Turlish primie minister is thought to have urged al-Maliki to postpone a planned referendum on the future of ethnically divided Kirkuk.

    Turkey opposes plans by Iraqi Kurds to make the oil-rich city the capital of their autonomous region, fearing this would boost support for separatism among Turkey's own large Kurdish population.

    Al-Maliki is in Turley for one day and will then leave for Iran.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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