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(photo credit: AP)
A high-level Iraqi delegation was expected to visit Ankara on Thursday after Turkey's top leadership recommended the government take economic measures to force Iraqi cooperation against Kurdish rebels and Turkey considered a possible military cross-border offensive.
Turkish warplanes reportedly pounded rebel positions along the border. An AP Television News cameraman standing at the Habur border crossing saw a pair of warplanes flying from northern Iraq back into Turkey. It was not clear whether the planes were on a reconnaissance mission.
Several F-16 warplanes were seen taking off from an air base in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir earlier Thursday, local reporters said.
Turkey has threatened to stage an incursion into northern Iraq if Iraqi Kurds and US-led coalition forces do not crack down on Kurdish rebels.
"Turkey is running out of patience and will not tolerate the use of Iraqi soil for the purpose of launching terrorist activities," President Abdullah Gul said Thursday in a speech opening the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization foreign ministers' meeting in Ankara. "We are totally determined to take all the necessary steps to end this threat."
A Kurdish rebel ambush near the border killed 12 soldiers on Sunday. Eight soldiers have been missing since then; the rebels say they are holding them and have distributed photographs and video footage.
The Iraqi delegation will be headed by the Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi and will include Minister of State for National Security Sherwan al-Waili, said Yassin Majid, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"It will discuss all issues between the two countries. The political choice will be the first solution to solve the crisis. The Iraqi government insists on dialogue and cooperation to solve the crisis," Majid said.
Iraq has already promised to shut down offices used by rebel bases. But Turkey wants Iraq and US forces to destroy rebel bases and extradite the rebel leadership to Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey is "expecting them to come with concrete proposals and otherwise the visit will have no meaning."
Turkey has launched a diplomatic campaign to ease concerns of Western allies that a Turkish offensive could destabilize northern Iraq, which escaped much of violence that gripped Iraq, and is also weighing economic sanctions as an option to win the backing of local Iraqi Kurds.
Turkey's military and civilian leaders on Wednesday recommended the government "to first take necessary economic measures against those groups directly or indirectly supporting the separatist terrorist organization in the region."
The self-ruling Kurdish administration in Iraq's north relies heavily on Turkish investment, mainly for construction works, including the building of roads, hospitals and infrastructure.
Ankara is also selling electricity to northern Iraq, and most food sold in markets come from Turkey. The Turkish Trade Minister said earlier Wednesday that economic sanctions could be taken.
Turkey's military and civilian leaders face growing demands at home to stage the offensive in northern Iraq, where the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to conduct attacks.
Troops on Thursday were seen using mine detectors against roadside rebel bombs as they patrolled near the town of Yuksekova in Hakkari province, bordering Iraq and Iran, the television crew reported.
Troops have killed 231 Kurdish rebels in several clashes since January 1, the state-run Anatolia news agency, citing military sources, reported Thursday. It did noy say how many soldiers were killed in the clashes in the same period but around 30 soldiers were ambushed and killed this month alone.
Turkish security forces have also seized more than 50,000 kilograms of dynamite and plastic explosives from suspected rebels across the country in the same period, Anatolia reported. Kurdish militants have carried out numerous bombings in Turkey.
Turkey seems willing to refrain from a major cross-border action until at least early next month, when it is scheduled to host foreign ministers for a meeting about Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed a meeting among the United States, Iraq and Turkey during the November 2-3 conference in Istanbul.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to go to Washington almost immediately afterward to meet with President George W. Bush.
The Turkish leader is likely to reiterate demands that the US-backed government in Iraq take steps to close off supply lines to the PKK and take other measures to reduce the group's effectiveness, possibly including military action.
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