After days of negotiations, on Friday Ankara and Baghdad eventually signed a counterterrorism agreement targeting members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
based in northern Iraq, but failed to reach an agreement on a plan that would have let Turkish troops pursue PKK members across the two countries’ shared border.Hours before the signing of the deal in Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan warned in New York that the number of options of the Turkish government concerning its fight against PKK terrorism have been gradually decreasing due to the absence of concrete action by the Iraqi and US governments against the organization.
Turkish officials assert that the right under international law to send its troops across the mountainous border in “hot pursuit” of members of the PKK, designated a terrorist organization by a large majority of the international community, including Washington. However Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish administration in the north has opposed any concession by Baghdad on this issue. “We could not reach an agreement on the article concerning the improvement of border security cooperation. Our negotiations on this issue will continue,” Turkish Interior Minister BeÅŸir Atalay said at the signing ceremony held at the Prime Ministry.
The Iraqi delegation, headed by Interior Minister Jawad al-Boulani, was prepared to leave on Thursday evening after disputes over the right to “hot pursuit” brought the talks to an impasse on the third day of negotiations. He was convinced to stay for another day by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary ErtuÄŸrul Apakan.
Turkey has long been pressing Iraq for a counterterrorism pact to crack down on the PKK and has threatened to stage a military incursion into northern Iraq to eradicate terrorist bases there if US or Iraqi forces failed to take action against the group.
â€œThe blood which is being shed as a result of the attacks by the terrorist organization is deepening the mass trauma among our society with each passing day and itâ€™s pushing the limits of the Turkish peopleâ€™s patience more, while decreasing [the number of] political options,â€ ErdoÄŸan said on Thursday, in a speech delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Under the accord signed on Friday, the two countries pledged to take all necessary measures, including financial and intelligence, to combat the PKK and other militant groups. They will hold meetings every six months to coordinate their work.
â€œThe agreement is very important for Iraq,â€ Boulani said at the signing ceremony, when he added that his government would do all in its power to implement the measures. â€œWe want to choose the most effective mechanism for both sides,â€ he added, in an apparent reference to the hot pursuit issue.
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. Nevertheless, 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 PKK. Fridayâ€™s agreement fleshes out promises on combating the PKK made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a visit to the Turkish capital last month.
In New York, ErdoÄŸan also strongly warned that continued inaction by Washington against the presence and activities of the PKK from its bases in Iraq was harming US relations with its key NATO ally. Ankara, as well the Turkish general public, has become increasingly frustrated with the US for failing to live up to promises to tackle PKK members who have escalated attacks on Turkey from bases in Iraq and who have been fleeing across the border into Iraqâ€™s predominantly Kurdish northern provinces. Turkey massed troops on its border with Iraq earlier this year, and officials are debating whether or not to stage a military incursion.
â€œOur expectations are very clear on this point. The Iraqi authorities and the US must urgently take concrete measures beyond simply paying lip service … unfortunately so far we have not seen any concrete steps,â€ ErdoÄŸan said. The US considers the PKK a terrorist organization, but US officials have been reluctant to act for fear of widening the Iraq conflict and increasing violence in what has been Iraqâ€™s most stable region. Iraqi officials, already weary of what they see as domestic challenges to their sovereignty, including the US detention of Iranians in the north and the recent killing of at least 11 Iraqis by US security contractors, are not eager to see yet another foreign force crossing their border.
As of Friday, Iraqi Kurdish authorities, speaking with The Associated Press, signaled they might agree to the Iraqi-Turkish counterterrorism pact after Ankara dropped its demand to send troops in pursuit of PKK members fleeing across the border into northern Iraq. But officials in Iraqâ€™s autonomous Kurdish region complained the agreement had been reached without their prior consultation.
â€œWe are not committed to any security agreement connected to Kurdistanâ€™s security that was drawn up without any active participation from the regional government,â€ Brig. Gen. Jabbar Yawar, an undersecretary for the ministry governing Kurdish peshmerga forces. â€œIf this agreement is a routine one for sharing intelligence and fighting terrorism, then we will support it, but we will not support anything that violates the sovereignty of the regional government,â€ he added in a telephone interview with the AP.
Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government, said any pact must be approved by Iraqi constitutional institutions, including the Parliament, the Cabinet and the Presidential Council. â€œAny agreement to be signed with another country behind the back of the Kurdistan regional government and parliament will be totally rejected,â€ Abdullah said.