iraqi cabinet 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday he was dispatching a "high-level" political and security team to Turkey to try to defuse tensions on the Iraqi-Turkish border.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, meanwhile, said authorities intend to expel guerrillas of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party from Iraqi territory, but that their numbers and their whereabouts were not known to the government. He did not elaborate.
The government has previously stated its intention to throw the guerrillas out of Iraq, but there has been no sign of it acting on such pledges, primarily because it may be virtually impossible to do so given the difficult mountainous terrain in which they operate.
Additionally, the central government's authority in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where the guerrillas have their bases, is weak and any action against the guerrillas could run into opposition by local authorities.
Already, the government's handling of the crisis has come under criticism from two Kurdish politicians Tuesday. They contended that Maliki's government was not firm enough with Turkey.
A statement by Maliki's office said the decision to send the officials to Turkey was made after Maliki met with senior aides to discuss the crisis over a possible Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq in pursuit of separatist Kurdish guerrillas.
It did not say when the Iraqi delegation would leave for Ankara, where Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi arrived earlier Tuesday for talks with Turkish leaders over the border issue.
Dabbagh said the delegation was expected to leave Thursday.
"The Iraqi government will send a high-level political and security delegation to Turkey to deal with the recent security developments on the two nations' common borders," said the statement, which came one day after Maliki announced he was prepared to hold urgent talks with the Turkish government over the issue.
"The Iraqi government ... reiterates its commitment to ban terrorist activities carried out by the Kurdistan Workers' Party against neighboring Turkey," said the statement, which also called for the activation of a joint Iraqi-Turkish-US committee set up earlier this year to monitor the Iraqi-Turkish border.
The PKK, the group's Kurdish acronym, has been fighting the Turkish government since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Kurdish lawmakers Mahmoud Othman and Abdul-Khaliq Zankanah, speaking to The Associated Press in separate interviews, said they were disappointed by the government's handling of the crisis.
"The government's handling was below par," said Othman. "There should be more decisive actions and a firm stand and not just feeble rhetoric. Zankanah echoed his sentiments, calling on the government to take a "more frank and more confident" steps.
Iraq's Kurds have long complained of what they see bullying by neighboring Turkey, citing what they said was a total of 25 large-scale incursions into Iraqi territory in recent years.
They are sympathetic to the cause of their kin in Turkey, Syria and Iran but realize that acting on the dream of establishing a "greater Kurdistan" would trigger the wrath of the three nations.
Iraq's Kurds have since 1991 enjoyed extensive autonomous powers in three northern Iraqi provinces where they set up a parliament, a regional government and adopted their own flag.
They are reluctant to sacrifice their gains for the sake of a larger Kurdish cause.
They've recently been more resentful of what they see as central government policies that deny them the exploitation of oil fields in their region. They also are dismayed by delays in implementing constitutional provisions on the fate of the northern city of Kirkuk, which they claim as part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Arab and Turkomen inhabitants dispute that claim.