Iraqi leader pledges to counter Kurdish rebels

Turkey says it has an array of tools to deal with the PKK, including diplomacy, economic measures and military means.

Maliki 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maliki 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to work with his country's neighbors to fight terrorism, responding to pressure from Turkey and the United States to help put an end to attacks from Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. Later Saturday, Iraqi Kurd authorities shut down the Irbil and Sulaimaniyah offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution party, an organization that allegedly had close ties to Kurdish guerrillas. At an international conference on Iraq, officials from the central government in Baghdad said rebels would be tracked and arrested. However, such action is likely to depend heavily on the assistance of Iraqi Kurds, who run their own administration in northern Iraq and have been accused by Turkey of backing the Turkish Kurd rebels. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played go-between with Turkish and Iraqi officials, as escalating tensions along the Turkish-Iraqi border overshadowed the meeting on Iraq's future. Turkish troops are massed on the border, and world leaders are trying to prevent an assault that could open a new front in the Iraq war. "Iraq should not be a base for attacks against neighbors," al-Maliki said. "We will cooperate with our neighbors in defeating this threat." He later said his government would take measures to prevent supplies from reaching the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and "we will pursue their elements in the country." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left for Washington after the meeting, saying the primary agenda for his talks Monday with US President George W. Bush would be "PKK terrorism." "I am expecting that this trip will result with the United States... taking solid steps," he said. At the Istanbul meeting, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, promised "concrete measures" against the PKK. "There will be increasing the number of checkpoints, stopping supplies, the shutdown of offices that exist in the north," he said. "There will be a lookout for the people wanted by the Turkish government." He countered suggestions that PKK members were easily accessible, noting they were armed and based in mountainous terrain. "It is difficult to catch these terrorist people," Zebari said. "And for journalists going and seeing them, in fact journalists used to go and interview Osama bin Laden and also members of al-Qaida. That is not an indication that we can reach them." In a final statement, participants in the Istanbul meeting said they supported Iraq's efforts to fight terrorism, "including all efforts to prevent Iraqi territory from being used as a base for terrorism against neighboring countries." Turkey said it had an array of tools to deal with the PKK, including diplomacy, economic measures and military means. "Right now, for Turkey, all these options are on the table," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said. "How, when and whether or not these measures will be used is a question of strategy." Turkey had sought the closure of the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution party, saying it was a front organization for the PKK. But Faeq Goolpie, head of the party, told The Associated Press by telephone the organization has no connections with the rebels. "The authorities in Irbil have closed our office without an explanation. The security forces came to the office and made official lists of the materials and equipment in the office and ordered everyone to leave. No one was arrested," Goolpie said. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for dialogue to resolve fears of a Turkish offensive against the rebels. "The series of incidents along the border between Turkey and Iraq demonstrates the need for continuous engagement to address concerns," he told the delegates. "We recognize Turkey's security concerns." Rice and her foreign ministry counterparts from Iraq and Turkey held a private meeting on the sidelines of the conference. The small session began with stiff smiles and pleasantries before reporters were ushered away. Turkey is hosting the session, which includes about two dozen nations and organizations pledged to support Iraq's US-backed government economically and politically. The guest list included Iran and Syria, two nations the United States blames for furthering instability and violence inside Iraq. Rice sat across from Iran's foreign minister at an opening dinner Friday night, but the two had no private meeting - something Iraq and many other Mideast nations had hoped for. Until now, Iraq's border with Turkey to the north was not considered much of a problem for US forces or the fragile government in Baghdad. That changed over the past month with an onslaught of attacks by the PKK. The deaths of more than 40 people over the past month have pushed Turkey to threaten a major offensive across the Iraq border unless Iraq and the United States can neutralize the rebels first. The Kurdish rebels operate in Iraq's Kurdish region, an oil-rich sector that has considerable autonomy. Turkey, the United States and the Baghdad central government all say any meaningful action against the rebels must come at least partly from the Kurdish regional government. Turkey accuses the Iraqi Kurds of helping the PKK or at least looking the other way, and the United States has said the Kurds are "inactive" against the PKK.