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Turkey says it's ready to help Iraq oust Kurdish fighters

PKK militants gather with their guns on roads to make a barricade in Kirkuk [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 October, 2017

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Turkey on Monday said it was ready to help the Iraqi government oust Kurdish fighters from Kirkuk after Baghdad said their presence in the city was a "declaration of war".

Turkey says it is ready to help the Iraqi government oust Kurdish fighters from Kirkuk, following an offensive launched by pro-Baghdad forces in the disputed northern city on Monday.

Ankara fears independence moves by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) could spark similar moves by its own Kurdish minority, where a decades' long conflict has led to thousands of deaths.

"We are ready for any form of cooperation with the Iraqi government in order to end the PKK presence in Iraqi territory," the Turkish foreign ministry said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Ankara has outlawed.

Iraq's National Security Council on Sunday said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk" - including fighters from the PKK.

On Monday, Iraqi forces took control of a military airport near Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

Tensions have mounted since a controversial 25 September independence referendum, which irked Baghdad as well as neighbouring Turkey and Iran, which both have large Kurdish minorities. 

Turkish authorities said Ankara would now talk to the central government in Baghdad rather than Iraqi-Kurdish leaders, with whom they had forged close ties in the past.

 
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The PKK - which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 - is listed as a terror group by Turkey and much of the international community, including the US.

The referendum was held in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region and also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk, which are claimed by both Baghdad and Iraqi-Kurdistan.

Turkey has fiercely opposed the referendum and slammed it as null and void.

"We are warning the (Kurdistan Regional Government) not to add to the grave mistakes it has made in recent times," the foreign ministry said. 

"Those who help the PKK terror group... find safe haven in this region will be held responsible also by us."

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