Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki labeled the PKK an "illegal terrorist organization" in advance of his arrival in Ankara Tuesday, raising the prospect that the Baghdad government may be preparing significant shift in their tacit acceptance of the Kurdish rebel group's activities on Iraqi soil.
The strong words come amidst unconfirmed reports that the two governments are poised to sign a bilateral agreement designed to establish the basis for a joint effort against the PKK.
"The PKK is an illegal terrorist organization, and the Turks are accusing them of terrorism. We don't allow for any terrorist organization on our soil," Maliki told the AP on the plane en route to Ankara. "We want good relations with our neighbor, Turkey, and we should not interfere in each other's internal affairs," he added.
Maliki arrived in Ankara Tuesday morning flanked by an entourage of Iraqi government officials. The Iraqi delegation has a full day of meetings scheduled, in which the two countries will work on improving bilateral cooperation on security, economic, and trade issues.
According to the Turkish daily Milliyet, senior Turkish diplomats and a senior Iraqi delegation led by Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh were finalizing a bilateral cooperative agreement against terrorism on Monday. Maliki and Erdoğan are expected to sign the deal, providing no serious problems disrupt the talks.
Milliyet suggested that the draft deal put responsibility for fighting the PKK on the Iraqi government's shoulders, and reportedly outlines institutional cooperation in the fight against terrorism, as well as detailing procedures for handling captured terrorists.
“We are at the moment taking all measures against the PKK presence in Iraq, and we have been discussing with our Turkish counterparts the best way to raise our high-level cooperation against terrorism to the optimal level,” Dabbagh said in a brief interview with Today's Zaman on Monday, though he declined to confirm the Milliyet report.
“A consensus on the agreement needs time and negotiation,” he said, when asked whether the bilateral cooperation between the two governments against terrorism would be signed Tuesday, adding, “We are working on it and hoping to have a coordination which goes even beyond the content of the agreement for combating the PKK.”
When asked what Maliki had in his bag to offer to the Turkish government, Dabbagh responded: “Mr. Maliki is bringing good will and his sincere interest in having a strategic partnership between Iraq and Turkey to combat the terrorist threat that has been going on for 15 years. We would like to have it settled through different measures.”
The report that the two countries are working on a deal to establish a mechanism for handling captured terrorists raises the prospect that one bargaining chip Maliki could offer would be the extradition of Ali Riza Altun, a Kurd Turkey accuses of being the European fundraiser for the PKK.
Altun has reportedly lived in France since 2000, but was briefly detained in Austria in mid-July for traveling on false papers. Altun immediately flew to Arbil, Iraq upon his release by Austrian authorities, sparking a heated diplomatic row between Vienna and Ankara.
Iraqi ministers for Internal Affairs, Oil, Youth & Sports, Technology & Science, as well as Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari and Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili are accompanying Maliki. While Maliki and Erdogan are holding a one-on-one meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul will meet with Iraqi FM Zebari.
The size of the delegation also raises the prospect of advances on other bilateral initiatives, and cooperative agreements on economic issues are also expected to result from the talks.