Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 180

Turkish officials have accused Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, of excluding the right of hot pursuit from a list of measures to be taken against militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq (NTV, Radikal, September 28).

The agreement had originally been due to be signed yesterday (September 27), at the end of a two-day visit to Ankara by Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani. On September 26 al-Bulani and his Turkish counterpart, Besir Atalay, announced that the details of an agreement had been finalized and that it was ready to be signed. Although al-Bulani declined to give details, a draft leaked to Turkish journalists suggested that the agreement would include the establishment of liaison offices on the two countries’ shared border and the right for the Turkish security forces to cross into Iraq in hot pursuit of PKK units (see EDM, September 27).

However, the signing ceremony was postponed as the two sides began a fresh round of negotiations that lasted deep into the evening of September 27 and forced al-Bulani to extend his stay in Turkey for another 24 hours (Sabah, Hurriyet, Milliyet, CNNTurk, September 28).

Turkish officials blamed the impasse on Barzani, claiming that he had sent a message to al-Bulani declaring that, regardless of whether he signed the agreement in the name of the central government in Iraq; the KRG would simply refuse to honor it if the document included the right for Turkish troops to cross into northern Iraq (NTV, Radikal, September 28). Turkish journalists quoted an unnamed Iraqi diplomat as reporting that the delegation had received a “real dressing down” from Barzani, who told them that under no circumstances would the KRG agree to allowing Turkish troops to enter the territory under its control (Radikal, September 28).

On September 27, the Turkish media had reported that the initial draft agreement foresaw Turkish forces being able to conduct “hot pursuit” operations provided that they received approval from Baghdad (see EDM, September 27). However, Turkish officials are believed to have argued that having to wait to receive permission from Baghdad would render any “hot” pursuit meaningless (Radikal, Milliyet, September 28). But, following what the Turkish media is describing as the intervention by Barzani, any reference to hot pursuit has now been excluded from the agreement. According to a copy of the final draft leaked to the local news channel, CNNTurk, Iraq will agree merely to prevent the PKK from receiving financial or logistical support and will detain or extradite to Turkey any PKK leaders it finds in its territory. However, the agreement provides no details of how this is going to be done, particularly as the KRG has traditionally allowed the PKK to operate with relative impunity (CNNTurk, September 28).

Barzani has repeatedly denied that the KRG is providing any support to the camps and has characterized them as being located in an isolated area with extremely limited access. However, visitors to the region have reported that PKK members can move around northern Iraq at will and appear to be on good terms with Iraqi Kurdish officials.

From the Turkish perspective, more worrying than the right of hot pursuit being excluded from the list of measures to be taken against the PKK will be their perception that Barzani has apparently been able to dictate to the central government in Baghdad. Turkey fears that, although the KRG is nominally subordinate to the government in Baghdad, it is already effectively autonomous and is merely biding its time before attempting to establish an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq; something that Ankara is worried could serve as an inspiration to its own restive Kurdish minority.

Turkish fears were heightened on September 26 when the U.S. Senate endorsed a resolution calling for the creation of semi-autonomous regions within a united Iraq. Although the resolution is not binding on the Bush administration, and includes an explicit commitment to Iraq’s territorial integrity, there is nevertheless considerable concern in Ankara that it will be interpreted by the KRG as an expression of support for the eventual creation of an independent Kurdish political entity in the north of the country.