Iraq chastises Kurd rebels

PKK officials defiant

foreign ministers of Iraq, Turkey hold talks

October 24, 2007|By James Janega | James Janega,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD -- Iraq has called on the Kurdish rebel group PKK to halt its cross-border guerrilla war with Turkey and close its offices in Iraq after Turkish officials made a trip to Baghdad yesterday to try to forestall a widening border crisis.

But it was clear that Turkey was running out of patience with Iraq to curtail the activities of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a campaign for Kurdish independence in Turkey from camps in the rugged, semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

PKK rebels staged an ambush across the Turkish border Sunday, killing 12 Turkish soldiers and wounding 16. Eight soldiers are missing, and PKK leaders have reported they are being held in northern Iraq as hostages.

A spokesman for the Kurdish group told the Chicago Tribune in a telephone interview late yesterday that they had no offices to close and that the group would defend itself if Turkish forces attacked.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari held an emergency meeting in Baghdad with his Turkish counterpart and afterward called the situation "complicated and dangerous."

Though he and Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan, called military action a last resort, signs of it loomed yesterday.

Arab-language newscasts showed footage of Turkish troops -- authorized last week by parliament to enter Iraq in a counterattack against the PKK -- as they ramped up their presence in the mountains along the Iraq border. Other images showed Kurdish villagers fleeing south into Iraq, their cars filled with food and belongings.

"Right now, Turkey as a whole is very annoyed and concerned about what is going on, and the public reaction in Turkey is huge," Babacan said. "We are expecting support from the international community and our neighbors in the struggle against terrorism."

He called the PKK a "terrorist organization" that threatened to ruin the two countries' "historical and friendly ties" and said Iraq and the United States had not kept earlier promises to deal with the rebels.

Turkey has increasingly called on American forces to get involved, and diplomatic officials said Monday that the U.S. might have to intervene with airstrikes or other armed action if the PKK does not relent. Bush administration officials told the Tribune on Monday that U.S. airstrikes were being contemplated, perhaps involving cruise missiles.

The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984 from the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. After losing popular support in Turkey during the last round of elections, analysts say, the PKK would like to incite Turkey to attack Iraq in hopes of rejuvenating its cause among Turkish Kurds.

A PKK spokesman who identified himself as Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi discussed a possible Turkish invasion in an interview late yesterday.

"We believe it will strengthen our movement and the resistance will develop," he said. "We will defend the dignity and honesty of the Kurdish people until the end. We don't want to complicate the situation more, but if Turkey decides to invade, we won't stand watching. We must defend ourselves and our people."

At a meeting with defense writers in Washington yesterday, David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, said the Kurdistan regional government should be held accountable for heading off a possible Turkish incursion against PKK guerrillas in Iraq.

"We look to the Kurdish leadership to take steps in their own interest against this group," Satterfield said.

Turkey is a critical partner for America in the war on terrorism. The U.S. supports the secular Islamic country's bid for membership in the European Union and moves most of its military air cargo to Iraq through Turkey. Turkey and Iraq also have had a long-standing trade relationship.

Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister and a Kurd, vowed that Iraq "will not allow any group, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations."

After the two foreign ministers met, Babacan held discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd.

James Janega writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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