By Joshua Partlow and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 26, 2007
BAGHDAD, Oct. 25 -- The Turkish military said it had continued attacks Thursday against Kurdish separatists in mountainous areas along the Turkish-Iraqi border, as officials of the two countries and the United States gathered to attempt to defuse the crisis.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that his government does not have "to seek anyone's permission" to launch cross-border operations into Iraq and criticized allies for refusing to do more to curb the activities of the separatists.
"The ball is in our court now, and we will have to do what is necessary on our own if those who have the responsibility do not take action," Erdogan said in Bucharest, Romania's capital, during a joint news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
Turkey has recently dispatched warplanes and helicopters to its southern border with Iraq and shelled the mountainous terrain in a growing effort to combat guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who have killed more than 40 Turkish soldiers, police officers and civilians in the past month and claim to have taken eight soldiers captive in an ambush this week. Turkey has threatened to invade Iraq to pursue the rebels, but U.S. and Iraqi diplomats are working to prevent that.
An Iraqi delegation led by Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim arrived in Ankara, the Turkish capital, to meet with senior Turkish officials to discuss the increasing tension, skirmishes and attacks along the border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey is "expecting them to come with concrete proposals -- otherwise, the visit will have no meaning."
"The political choice will be the first solution to solve the crisis," Yassin Majid, a member of the Iraqi delegation and an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told reporters. "The Iraqi government insists on dialogue and cooperation to solve the crisis."
The officials will conduct formal talks Friday.
Erdogan criticized Turkey's European allies for failing "a sincerity test" in helping his country fight PKK activities. "Unfortunately, the terrorist organization has been establishing associations in several European countries, receiving financial support, and our European friends are employing delaying tactics by refusing to hand over the PKK operatives they captured to Turkey," Erdogan said.
Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, called on the Iraqi government Thursday to do more to isolate the PKK inside its mountainous hideouts in northern Iraq. He said the Iraqi government needed to make clear it would not accept a terrorist organization attacking other countries from Iraq's territory.
"I don't think it's realistic to expect that the Iraqis are going to march up that mountain and take on the PKK and their position or arrest their leaders. I think that's in the 'too hard to do' category," Crocker told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "But it is reasonable to expect the Iraqis to use all the means that they have to monitor PKK movements, including roads, airports, what not, to make an active effort to try to learn what travel patterns may be and be prepared to act if these guys come down out of that mountain."
Crocker said U.S. officials would participate in the Ankara meetings.
"Decisions on where to go from here have to be very carefully taken," Crocker said. "Consequences have to be weighed. In particular, we have cautioned that military action across the border would be dangerous and destabilizing, to the detriment of all our interests."
Crocker declined to speculate about the potential U.S. response to a Turkish invasion of Iraq. "Our efforts right now, with both the Turks and the Iraqis, is for that not to happen," he said.
Crocker said the Iraqi government should establish a lookout list for PKK leaders, pursue the guerrillas whenever they leave their mountain territory along the border, and try to cut off supplies coming in.
"We're just going to have to see what is actually done. I sense a seriousness on the part of Iraq's leaders, including its Kurdish leaders, to take these kinds of steps. But the proof will be in what they actually do," he said.
A statement issued by the Turkish Military General Staff said Turkish soldiers killed more than 30 PKK fighters in operations on Tuesday when security forces "spotted a large group of terrorists who were preparing to attack" a military headquarters.
The statement said Turkish forces opened fire with tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry. "Terrorists then tried to escape to Iraqi territory, but security forces followed them," it said.
Moore reported from Paris.