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Border Conflict Part of Complex Turkey-Iraq Relationship

Tensions again loom along the Turkey-Iraq border with a Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq and economic sanctions still a possibility despite diplomatic efforts to calm the situation. It all centers on a 23-year conflict between Ankara and Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey and often using bases in northern Iraq to launch their attacks. That conflict is part of a complex economic and political relationship between the two neighbors, as VOA's Sonja Pace reports from the Turkish-Iraq border at the Habur crossing.

There is no shortage of them - 100 or more on any given day - waiting to carry goods from Turkey into Iraq.

It's often a long wait - over a week, the drivers say, before they get cleared to go through. They say they bring cargo from all over Turkey mainly into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

It's not an easy life, lots of waiting, little comfort and not much money, drivers say.

And yet, trade between Turkey and Iraq is booming and worth billions of dollars per year.

Turkish companies are involved in reconstruction in Iraq, and Turkey imports oil and gasoline.

And yet, Turkey is threatening to impose economic sanctions against rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, on the other side of the border.

In an exclusive interview with VOA in Istanbul, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says everyone stands to lose if sanctions were implemented. "Definitely, it would hurt northern Iraq, but it will hurt Turkish business interests as well. I mean, Turkey is the one country that is benefiting more than any others in reconstructions, in projects, business - they're operating from Basra (in the far south) to the north," he says.

Asked about the threat of a Turkish military incursion, Zebari says that carries even greater risks. "Any major military incursion will destabilize the one single, most stable part of Iraq, and this could undo many of the achievements on the security front, on the economic front, on service fronts - to undo them, which is in nobody's interest," he adds.

At the moment, trade sanctions are a contingency plan.

Iraq analyst Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group says sanctions are not the answer. "My sense is that Turkey would be better off to find a political solution to the question of the PKK, to have some kind of amnesty and to work out a very close economic relationship with the Kurdish region [in northern Iraq]," he says.

The truck drivers here at the Habur border crossing are far from the corridors of power where the questions of military action and trade sanctions are dealt with. Here, they wait to cross the border to deliver their goods, come back and do it all over again - hoping that politics will not interfere.