By Sarp Ozer
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey is closely monitoring developments in the key Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and the protection of Turkmen rights there carries great importance for the Turkish government, said Turkey’s defense chief on Monday.
Kirkuk, a onetime Ottoman holding, is an important Iraqi city with a large ethnic Turkmen population. Some of the city’s Turkmen and Arab residents fear that military cooperation between Baghdad and Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) could lead to the deployment of Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk, which lies outside the KRG region. Turkey has long opposed efforts to artificially alter the city’s ethnic makeup.
In a video conference, National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also said Turkey's fight against terrorism is continuing with determination despite difficult weather and terrain, and that terrorism is collapsing.
The Turkish Armed Forces will destroy all terror bases and hideouts, he vowed, adding that the counter-terrorism operations will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized.
He said Turkey is working in a constructive manner on this process with Baghdad and the KRG, adding that Ankara respects law and rights while fighting terror elements abroad – likely referring to the terrorist PKK, which often hides out across Turkey’s Iraqi border to plot terror attacks.
In its more than 35-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.
"We should reach the goal together,” said Akar. “This is how we ensure the security of ourselves and our Iraqi brothers. We will continue to work shoulder to shoulder in this regard.”
On the Black Sea region, where tensions between Ukraine and Russia have recently escalated, he said Turkey is working to restore calm to the region and that both sides should maintain their activities without escalation while remaining committed to existing agreements.
"Our hope is that the tension between Russia and Ukraine, as well as NATO, will be resolved as soon as possible by peaceful means and methods," he said, adding that Turkey seeks peace and stability to develop in the region and is ready to provide any required support.
Russia has recently amassed a military buildup outside Ukraine’s eastern border – the second such buildup this year.
Turkey enjoys good ties with both Russia and Ukraine, and has also defended Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the wake of Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and a Russian-backed separatist campaign in eastern Ukraine.
*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas