by Moussa Mohammed Moussa Mohammed – Sat Apr 11, 3:43 pm ET
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq's national security minister Shirwan al-Waili said on Saturday that Iraq, Turkey and the United States had agreed to step up intelligence sharing to help combat Kurdish rebels.
Waili said the three countries had formed a special committee to examine how best to rein in the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has launched attacks on Turkey from its hideouts in the mountains of northern Iraq.
"There will be a special committee in Baghdad to exchange information on how to stop the political, military and media activities of the PKK," he said after meeting with Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay and the US ambassador.
"Our forces have the authority and the power to close the (PKK) bases," he said in an interview with state-run television.
"Our fight against terrorism is not limited only to Al-Qaeda, but is against all those who endanger the security of Iraq and disturb our relations with neighbouring countries."
Atalay had flown to Baghdad on Saturday for talks on fighting the Marxist group as clashes inside Turkey claimed nine lives.
"We expect both the central Iraqi government and the regional administration in the north to undertake concrete steps" against the rebels, Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted Atalay as saying before his departure.
The minister had also said ahead of the meeting that he hoped the three-way cooperation "will produce good results, particularly in intelligence sharing."
The talks are part of three-way consultations between Turkey, Iraq and the United States initiated in November when the three formed a joint committee.
The Iraqi Kurds, whom Ankara had long accused of tolerating the rebels on their territory and even aiding them, also joined the committee.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, said last month that the PKK militants must lay down their arms or leave the country.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, has long used mountainous bases in Kurdish-run northern Iraq as a launching pad for attacks on Turkish targets across the border.
The meeting in Baghdad came as seven PKK militants were killed in clashes with the Turkish army in a mountainous area in Sirnak province, close to the Iraqi border, the general staff said on its web site.
The fighting erupted after rebels opened fire on troops on Friday evening, killing two soldiers, the statement said, adding that the security operation in the region was continuing.
The PKK took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives.
Turkish warplanes have bombed PKK hideouts in northern Iraq under a parliamentary authorisation since December 2007.