A large Turkish business delegation will head to northern Iraq Tuesday to boost trade links, despite a political chill over Turkish Kurd rebels taking refuge in the area, a newspaper report said.
State minister for foreign trade Zafer Caglayan, who will lead the 200 businessmen, voiced the hope that increased economic exchanges between Turkey and its Iraqi Kurdish neighbours would help end the tensions.
"Trade is the key to politics... Improving business ties will eradicate the problems between us. Terrorism will decrease as the economy improves both in the region (northern Iraq) and in Turkey," Caglayan told the Milliyet daily.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, has in the past month dramatically stepped up its violent 26-year campaign for self-rule in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey.
The PKK uses mountainous bases in neighbouring northern Iraq as a launching pad for attacks inside Turkey, prompting frequent Turkish air raids on the group's hideouts there and increasing tensions between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds who run an autonomous administration in the region.
Caglayan, due to meet with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Tuesday, said he would convey Ankara's expectations for stronger support against the PKK.
Turkey had often accused the Iraqi Kurds of tolerating and even aiding the PKK, but has recently shifted to a policy of seeking cooperation.
During a landmark visit to Ankara on June 3, Barzani pledged "all efforts" to stop PKK violence but hinted that Iraqi Kurds were reluctant to fight their kin, stressing the need for a political solution to the conflict.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, slammed "unilateral" Turksih action earlier this month after Turkish troops reportedly crossed into northern Iraq to pursue PKK militants who had killed nine soldiers in a raid on an outpost near the Iraqi border.
Despite the tensions, Turkish entrepreuners have been keen to do business in northern Iraq, taking advantage of relative peace in the region and its proximity to Turkey.
"Eighty percent of the food and clothes sold in northern Iraq are Turkish products. Turkish contractors are part of many projects in the region," Caglayan told Milliyet.
"But there is still a lot to be done -- infrastructure, hospitals, schools. Turks are the most ambitious candidates for all these," he said.