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U.S., Iraq, Turkey Hold Baghdad Talks On PKK

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- U.S., Iraqi, and Turkish officials have held three-way talks in Baghdad, signaling a new joint effort to combat Kurdish separatists who use Iraq as a base for strikes on Turkey.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki received the Turkish delegation and promised to help Iraq's neighbor fight the separatists of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"The visit is an important step on the path of the efforts our two countries exert to fight terror," a statement from Maliki's office quoted the prime minister as saying. "It will lay down the rules to confront the terrorist PKK."

The delegations were headed by Iraqi Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili, Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and included both civilian and military officials, the U.S. Embassy said.

Turkey has accused Iraq of failing to rein in the fighters, and the issue has strained ties between the two neighbors.

Turkey has stepped up cross-border air strikes and shelling of northern Iraq since PKK rebels killed 17 Turkish soldiers in an ambush in southeastern Turkey last month.

"Turkey is an important neighbor and what harms Turkey harms us," al-Maliki said in the statement. "Our joint efforts will be more active in confronting this terrorist organization."

The two neighbors, both key allies of Washington in the region, have been working on improving their historically frosty ties. In July, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish leader to visit Iraq for nearly 20 years.

Washington and Baghdad both consider the PKK a terrorist group and say Turkey has a right to take limited cross-border action against the fighters. But they fear a large-scale Turkish military response could destabilize northern Iraq.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, visited Turkey last month to discuss the PKK. Turkish officials have also visited Baghdad to talk about the issue in recent weeks.