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Turkey s Gul due on landmark Iraq visit

BAGHDAD, Mar 23 – Turkish President Abdullah Gul is due in Iraq on Monday on the first such visit in more than three decades, for talks expected to focus on the thorny issue of Kurdish rebels.

"He is expected on Monday in Baghdad, where he will meet a number of Iraqi officials," the head of Iraq’s presidency, Nassir al-Ani, told AFP on Sunday.

In Ankara, a presidential aide said Gul is expected to meet his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani as well as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during his two-day stay in Baghdad.

Gul will be the first Turkish head of state to visit neighbouring Iraq in 33 years. The last was by Fahri Koruturk in 1976.

Talabani paid a two-day visit to Ankara a year ago, his first to Turkey as head of state, when he and Gul pledged to cooperate in attempts to oust rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who have set up bases in northern Iraq.

Ankara wants close ties and economic cooperation with Baghdad but the safe haven the PKK enjoys in the autonomous Kurdish-run north of Iraq has long been a problem between the two countries.

Hopes of better cooperation improved after Iraq, Turkey and the United States agreed in November to form a joint committee to work on the problem.

In December, Maliki visited Ankara and pledged to increase cooperation to root out the rebels.

While in Istanbul last week for the World Water Forum, Talabani called on Ankara to consider an amnesty for the rebels to consolidate measures broadening Kurdish cultural freedoms and boost the prospect of lasting peace.

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He also said in media interviews that the Kurdish rebels are expected to heed an appeal expected next month by Kurdish political groups from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Europe to lay down their arms.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives.

Turkey says thousands of PKK militants use the mountains of northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory.

Turkish warplanes have frequently bombed rebel hideouts in the region since 2007.


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