Leaders of Turkey, Iraq Drift Closer Over Kurdish Concerns

Turkey and Iraq agreed to resist mutual foes in talks Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, as concerns over the influence of Kurdish militants bring the neighbors closer.

The two nations would “maintain the fight against our common enemies of Daesh, PKK and FETO,” Erdogan told a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in Ankara.

He was referring to Islamic State, Kurdish PKK militants and the outlawed network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016.

According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, al-Kadhimi said it would be “out of question for Iraq to tolerate any group that threatens Turkey.”

Turkey’s military has been fighting the autonomy-seeking PKK for decades, occasionally striking the group’s bases inside Iraq in unilateral incursions opposed by authorities in Baghdad.

It intensified the attacks, and sent troops into northern Syria to confront an affiliated Kurdish force, as the multinational war to defeat Islamic State left the Kurds in control of more territory.

The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, helped drive the jihadist movement from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in 2015. But recent attempts by Iraqi Kurdish forces to evict PKK fighters from their self-governing area led to clashes.

Turkey has long urged Iraq to deny shelter to the PKK, and promised unspecified support to Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government.

Erdogan and al-Kadhimi discussed combating terrorism, the reconstruction of Iraq as well as improving trade and energy ties.

“As Turkey, we will give any support we can to fully clear the country from this terrorist organization,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said alongside his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, referring to the PKK and affiliated Syrian YPG.

“Particularly, clearing the town of Sinjar from the PKK is important for the future of Iraq.”

About 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, where they’ve pushed for equal rights and autonomy over their affairs and periodically rebelled. Turkey opposes any moves that bolster separatist claims by Kurds in Syria, concerned it would encourage militants on its soil.

Ankara saw U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG in the war with Islamic State as supporting the Kurds’ demand for autonomy. The dispute has in recent years helped fuel Turkey-U.S. tensions, which escalated this week after Washington sanctioned NATO-member Turkey for its purchase of a Russian missile-defense system.

Ilnur Cevik, a senior adviser to Erdogan, said the PKK and YPG were now posing a threat to Iraq’s Kurds.

The latest clash between Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas and PKK and YPG militants occurred Tuesday, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said in a statement.

“I call upon our friends and partners in the global coalition to ensure that the YPG does not repeat this act of aggression,” Barzani said. “The YPG cannot be allowed to exploit foreign assistance to launch attacks on our territory. Any repeat would be seriously damaging to regional security.”

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