ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s military is cooperating with Iran by sharing information and coordinating strikes against PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq, a senior Turkish general said on Thursday.
“We haven’t done it (coordinated strikes) for one or two months but we would do it if necessary,” General Ilker Basbug, head of the land forces and the second most powerful man in the Turkish military, told reporters at a security conference.
The Turkish military has regularly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel positions this year in the mountains of northern Iraq, where several thousands are believed to be holed up.
Turkish troops conducted a large-scale incursion across the border in February.
Iranian forces have often clashed in Iraqi border areas with rebels from the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the PKK. Analysts say PJAK has bases in northern Iraq from where they operate against Iran.
The European Union and the United States are keen for NATO member Turkey, which says it is defending itself against a terrorist organization, to limit its attacks in northern Iraq in order to avoid destabilizing Iraq and the wider region.
“This terrorist group has taken advantage of the weakened Iraqi government to attack Turkey from northern Iraq. And we … (work) against this terrorist organization and when necessary we do so inside Iraq,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters during a visit to Japan.
“But I would like to stress that we are only targeting this terrorist organization,” Gul said. Turkey has been accused of seeking to use the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq as a pretext to undermine Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 with the aim of establishing an ethnic homeland in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.
An estimated 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Last month Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced almost $12 billion in development for the poor, mainly Kurdish, southeast, which he said would help reduce poverty which feeds violent separatism.
The EU, which Turkey wants to join, has called for better cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurds.