Kurds offer to end attacks

Rebels say they will stop if Turkey drops planned assault on them

October 23, 2007|By Asso Ahmed and Yessim Borg | Asso Ahmed and Yessim Borg,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Kurdish separatists said yesterday that they would stop their cross-border attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara dropped its threats to launch an offensive on their mountain enclaves in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey, stung by a Kurdistan Workers Party raid during the weekend that left at least 12 of its infantrymen dead, has begun sending troops to the border with Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region to prepare for a possible strike. Many fear such a move could destabilize the sole region of Iraq that has remained relatively peaceful since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"If the Turkish state stops the attacks, this escalating environment of tension will turn into a clash-free one," said a statement posted on a rebel Web site by the group, known as the PKK. "Our movement and people have the strength to defend itself under any condition; however, we prefer to solve the problems by democratic and peaceful ways rather than armed struggle."

Last week, the Turkish parliament approved incursions into Iraq to root out the Kurdish rebels. By last night, tens of thousands of Turkish troops were believed to be massed along the border, as Ankara confirmed that eight soldiers went missing in the PKK ambush on Sunday that left 12 Turkish troops dead. The PKK claimed it had abducted them and moved them to a safe place. The PKK-linked Firat news agency reported shelling around the Zakho region yesterday evening.

In an attempt to stave off a regional crisis, President Bush took the unusual step of calling the leaders of both Turkey and Iraq yesterday, urging a joint effort against terrorist groups. The calls came a day after an appeal by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Turkey, which has indicated it would give diplomatic efforts a chance to work before launching a major incursion.

A senior administration official involved in talks with the Turkish government said U.S. diplomatic efforts were focusing on pressuring Kurdish regional officials to stop PKK cells from operating unmolested in the autonomous regions of northern Iraq. Bush spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by secure video, and the two agreed to try to restrain the PKK, said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

Johndroe said al-Maliki agreed with Bush that "Turkey should have no doubt about our mutual commitment to end all terrorist activity from Iraqi soil."

At the same time, the Iraqi national government and the ruling Kurdish parties in the three northern provinces of Sulaymaniya, Dahuk and Irbil have warned Turkey not to cross the border. In his call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Bush expressed "deep concern" about PKK attacks and promised continued U.S. pressure on Iraq to stop the group from operating in northern Iraq.

Bush, in his conversation with Gul, also reaffirmed his opposition to a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed early in the 20th century, Johndroe said. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Turkish anger over the genocide resolution could propel a cross-border attack into northern Iraq.

The U.S. military has continued to insist that it will not get involved in Iraqi Kurdistan, where it has no forces. A senior military official in Baghdad said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has not been directly involved in any talks with the Turks or Kurds.

At the same time, a new flurry of diplomatic initiatives is about to begin. Iraqi officials said Turkey's foreign minister was set to visit Baghdad today and was due to meet with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, and that a delegation including Zebari could head to Turkey by the end of the week. A meeting of regional foreign ministers on Iraq is due to be held in Istanbul on November 2. U.S. embassy officials were meeting with Kurdish parliament members Monday, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, huddled with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Asso Ahmed and Yessim Borg write for the Los Angeles Times.

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