UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS BY TURKISH DEFENSE MINISTER
By Baris Gundogan
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey is ready to help boost the Iraqi military's effectiveness through sharing its knowledge and experience as a member of NATO, Turkey’s national defense minister said on Thursday.
“We are ready to do whatever we have to in order to consolidate and further develop our relations with Iraq and to make the Iraqi Armed Forces more effective by sharing all our knowledge and experience in NATO, as part of good neighborly relations,” Hulusi Akar said in Kars, northeastern Turkey, amid joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises there.
Noting that joint training and exercises can be held on this subject, he said Turkey and Iraq have discussed taking additional measures in the areas of the defense industry, supply, and procurement.
On Turkey’s anti-terror operation in northern Iraq, Akar said the struggle for the security of borders and people will continue in the region.
The terrorist PKK – which has taken some 40,000 lives over the last three decades – often takes shelter in northern Iraq to plan cross-border attacks in Turkey.
Touching on phase two of an anti-terror operation in northern Iraq which started Wednesday, he said: “We have coordinated Operation Claw-Eagle 2 with our friends and allies. We continue our activities in coordination with them.”
Stressing respect for Iraq's territorial integrity and political unity, he said Turkey has no intention of violating its neighbors’ rights or interests.
Turkey's operations Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle were launched last June to ensure the safety of the Turkish people and borders by neutralizing the threat of the PKK and other terrorist groups that often use northern Iraq to plan cross-border attacks.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people including women, children and infants.
– Northern Syria
Turkish border operations since 2016 have destroyed the terror corridor that terrorist groups were trying to form in northern Syria, and it cannot be re-formed there, Akar said.
He reiterated that Turkey fights the terror groups Daesh/ISIS and YPG/PKK in northern Syria while respecting Syria’s territorial integrity.
Had Turkey not taken action along its borders, the refugee influx to Europe that would have resulted must be considered, he stressed.
Since 2016, Turkey launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations in northern Syria, across its border, to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and to enable the peaceful settlement of residents there: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (2019).
Turkish officials have stressed that without Turkish forces protecting locals from the terrorist oppression of the YPG/PKK, the Syrian branch of a terror group that has taken some 40,000 lives, a large refugee flow would have resulted.
– Cyprus issue
Turning to regional issues, Akar said Turkey expects third parties to be objective and evaluate problems within the framework of reason, logic, and common sense, including on the issues of Cyprus, the Aegean, and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Stressing that Greece has entered an arms race which is incompatible with good neighborly relations, he said this will not make Turkey silent on the Cyprus issue.
Greece needs to refrain from raising tension and stop using threatening language, he said, adding that they should see that such moves will get them nowhere.
”It is not possible for us to accept threatening language. They should step back from this escalating language,” he said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece's annexation of the island was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the UK. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was founded in 1983.
Turkey has recently stressed that efforts for a “federal” solution have proved hopeless and so any future talks must focus on two separate sovereign states on the island.
Akar also highlighted the importance of the Turkish Armed Forces’ role in recent developments in Libya.
On Feb. 5, Libya elected its interim president and prime minister to govern the country until Libyan elections this December.
Libya has been torn by civil war since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Based in the capital Tripoli and currently led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the Government of National Accord was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement.
But efforts for a long-term political settlement have failed due to a military offensive by militias loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Al-Sarraj’s internationally recognized government has been battling Haftar’s militias since April 2019 in a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
Under a November 2019 cooperation agreement, Turkey has provided support to Libya’s government in repelling Haftar’s militias.
*Writing by Seda Sevencan and Gozde Bayar