(photo credit: AP)
Iraq's president, a Kurd, ordered Kurdish guerrillas to lay down their arms or leave Iraq after the rebels ambushed a military unit inside Turkey, killing 12 soldiers and increasing pressure on the Turkish government to stage a cross-border incursion.
Hours after Sunday's ambush, Turkey fired about 15 artillery shells toward Kurdish villages in the border area in northern Iraq but caused no casualties, an Iraqi army officer said.
A spokesman for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, also said a group of rebels killed and captured a number of Turkish forces during clashes about 70 kilometers (44 miles) inside Turkish territory.
"The PKK fighters were in a defensive position when they killed and injured a number of Turkish soldiers and captured another number," the spokesman, Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi, said without being more specific.
A statement by the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the PKK attack as a "terrorist operation" and pledged to do everything it can to secure the release of the hostages.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani urged the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to stop their attacks amid fears a Turkish incursion would destabilize the relatively peaceful autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
"We have appealed to the PKK to desist fighting and to transform themselves from military organizations into civilian and political ones," Talabani said. "But if they (the PKK) insist on the continuation of fighting, they should leave Kurdistan, Iraq, and not create problems here."
Talabani's call for the PKK rebels to lay down their arms or get out of Iraq is the strongest indication to date of his exasperation with the rebels' actions and his wish to distance himself, as well as Iraq's Kurds, from the rebels.
Talabani was speaking at a joint news conference with Massoud Barzani, leader of Iraq's Kurdish region, in the city of Irbil, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad.
Iraq's national parliament, meanwhile, voted unanimously Sunday to adopt a resolution rejecting the use of force by Turkey to settle the border crisis and calling on the PKK guerrillas to leave Iraq.
"I feel sorry about today's incident," Talabani said, alluding to Sunday's clashes. "I regret the shedding of blood, whether it is Turkish or Kurdish," he said.
"We will receive Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan tomorrow," he said.
Talabani tempered his strong words, however, acknowledging the difficulties in controlling the rebels who operate from bases in northern Iraq.
"The leaders of PKK are not within our reach. They are based in Kurdistan's rugged mountains and the Turkish army, with all its might, was unable to dislodge or capture them," Talabani said, commenting on Turkish demands that Iraqis expel the PKK rebels from their country.
"How can we arrest and hand them over to Turkey?"
Barzani called for dialogue but reiterated his vow that the Kurds would resist any Turkish incursion.
"We will defend ourselves in face of any aggression and against anyone if the region of Kurdistan is directly attacked," he said.
"If Turkey adopts a peaceful approach, then we will exert every effort to help Turkey to arrive at a solution," he said. "But it will be very difficult under threats and blackmail."
The Iraqi government, which labels the PKK a terrorist organization, has been seeking to defuse the border crisis, with al-Maliki saying he planned to dispatch a high-level government team to discuss with the Turkish government its security concerns.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi flew last week to Ankara where he met with Turkish leaders in a bid to defuse the tensions. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Sunday praised al-Hashemi's mission, saying it "contributed to the calming of the situation." He did not elaborate.
In Baghdad, the resolution adopted by Iraq's 275-seat parliament urged the Iraqi and Turkish governments to work together to peacefully resolve the crisis.
The lawmakers, however, took a hard line on last week's vote by the Turkish parliament empowering the government to launch a military incursion inside Iraq in pursuit of the guerrillas. It said the resolution entailed a violation of Iraq's territorial sanctity. It also condemned the recent shelling of Kurdish villages inside Iraq by Turkey.
"We reject the threat to use power to resolve the problem and feel that that the recent resolution by the Turkish parliament does not take into consideration the goal of normalizing relations between the two neighboring countries," said the measure, read by speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.
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