Maliki, Under Turkish Pressure, Vows to Curb Kurdish Rebels

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 23 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed Tuesday to halt the activities of Kurdish separatists staging strikes into Turkey from northern Iraq, marking his government's strongest declaration yet that it would act to forestall a Turkish invasion.

But even as international diplomatic efforts were underway to stop tensions from escalating, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey "cannot wait forever" for Iraq to curb the rebels' attacks. He reminded Iraq's government that Turkey's parliament had authorized a military incursion against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which wants to create a Kurdish state on Turkish soil.

"Right now we are in a waiting stance, but Iraq should know we can use the mandate for a cross-border operation at any time," Erdogan told reporters in London after talks on Tuesday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On Sunday, PKK fighters killed 12 Turkish soldiers and said they had captured eight, whom Turkish authorities have described as missing. A Kurdish Web site posted photographs Tuesday of men it said were the eight soldiers.

In Baghdad, following several hours of crisis talks between the Iraqi and Turkish foreign ministers, Maliki issued a statement promising to take action against the rebels.

"The PKK is a notorious terror organization and we have decided to shut down its offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil," Maliki said "We will take all measures to restrict its terror activities that threaten Iraq and threaten Turkey as well."

But it remains to be seen whether Iraq's government can effectively crack down on the PKK rebels. Their mountain hideouts are difficult to penetrate and Kurdish regional leaders may be reluctant to hunt down fellow Kurds.

Kamal Kirkukly, a senior Kurdish regional official, said the offices of the PKK had long been closed in the Kurdish region. "We have asked the PKK to lean on peace because the military operations would not achieve anything," Kirkukly told Iraq's al-Sharqiya television network. "Whatever their numbers are, they wouldn't be able to destroy the Turkish state."

U.S. officials, increasingly concerned that hostilities could upend one of war-riven Iraq's few areas of stability, have stressed that it is Iraq's responsibility to contain and disarm the PKK. A senior U.S. official on Tuesday aimed his comments at Iraq's Kurdish leaders, who oversee the semiautonomous northern region of the country.

"Action is required here and it has been too long without meaningful action directed against this terrorist group," David Satterfield, the U.S. coordinator for Iraq and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told reporters.

"This is not anything that the Kurdish leadership is not aware of from our own voice," he said. "We are not pleased with the lack of action undertaken against the PKK."

In Baghdad, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey was frustrated by the lack of progress.

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