Turkish leader on landmark first visit to Iraq


TURKEY:TURKISH PRIME minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid his first visit to Iraq yesterday, becoming the second regional leader to brave Baghdad's chronic insecurity to hold talks on security and reconstruction assistance and the presence of Turkish Kurdish rebels in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

He was greeted by his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki, foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, and oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani and met president Jalal Talabani later in the day. Mr Erdogan's meetings with Mr Zebari and Mr Talabani, both Kurds, were particularly significant because of the sensitive issue of the Turkish Kurds.

The first Middle Eastern head of state to visit Iraq was Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who received a warm welcome from Mr Maliki and his Shia and Kurdish ministers, several of whom lived in exile in Tehran during the years of Baathist rule. Ties between Baghdad and Tehran, ruptured by the ousted regime, have flourished since the US occupation.

Relations between Turkey and Iraq have also been good in spite of cross-border raids by the Turkish army against Turkish Kurdish insurgents holed up in the northern and eastern mountain ranges bordering Turkey and Iran.

While Turkey provides electricity, food, investment and expertise to the Iraqi Kurdish region, Ankara has been frustrated over the Iraqi Kurds' failure to drive Turkish Kurdish rebels from their mountain hideouts.

Mr Erdogan is the first Sunni regional figure to go to Iraq since 2003. Washington has been pressing Sunni rulers of neighbouring Arab countries to visit but they have refused due to suspicions over the intentions of the Shia-led, US-supported, pro- Iranian Iraqi government.