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BorderWatch:Turkey
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Iraqi Kurds, US Working to Assuage Turkey
Turkish Military Near Border Keep Up Pressure for Action
10/31/2007 2:24 PM ET
Turkish soldiers block a road during the defusing of a bomb near the town of Yuksekova, 31 October 2007, in the province of Van, near the Turkish-Iraqi border, eastern Turkey.
AFP/Getty
Turkish soldiers block a road during the defusing of a bomb near the town of Yuksekova, 31 October 2007, in the province of Van, near the Turkish-Iraqi border, eastern Turkey.

Turkish helicopters continued striking suspected PKK targets inside Sirnak province in southeast Turkey on Wednesday, keeping the pressure on Iraq and the United States to resolve the border problems.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, announced Wednesday that Iraq would be establishing more checkpoints to prevent food and supplies from reaching PKK camps, and was anticipating success in negotiations to secure the release of eight Turkish soldiers captured over the weekend.

While announcements from Baghdad sound like good news, the moves of the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government and the United States have greater significance in resolving the border crisis.

Iraq's Kurdish Leaders Making Moves

Iraq's Kurdish political parties reportedly plan to send a delegation to Ankara for talks on the PKK issue, though the Turkish government does not yet seem to be aware of the overture.

Erdoğan's administration has refused to negotiate directly with Iraq's Kurdish leadership, considering them to be compromised by their kinship to the PKK, and not wanting to empower the government of the Kurdish autonomous region by granting them negotiating power usually reserved for national leaders.

An unnamed Iraqi official told Turkey's Today's Zaman that the Kurdish delegation planned to meet with Turkish political parties, rather than diplomats or government officials.

"The delegation is supposed to be made up of seven Kurdish political parties in Iraq, not only of the two mainstream parties ," the Iraqi official said, without elaborating on the exact date of the visit.

Iraq's two major Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), convened a meeting in Arbil on Tuesday to discuss the PKK, releasing a joint statement pledging full cooperation against the Kurdish rebel group.

"The Kurdistan region has not been a part of Turkey's internal political and military problems in the past and is not so today. The PKK has illegally stationed itself in the border areas between Iraq and Turkey, without any legal license or political agreement with the Iraqi government, the KRG or any political parties. From those border areas, the PKK has created various problems for us," reads the statement, posted on the PUKmedia site of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's political party.

"We are ready, together with the Iraqi federal government and the US government -- which in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions has a responsibility to protect Iraq -- to adopt a correct approach to protect the borders and prevent any use of these areas for activities against our neighbors," it says. "We do not support the PKK, or allow any assistance to be provided to them. We hope that all parties, especially the United States, the Iraqi government, our neighbors and all friendly countries who support the people of Iraq and the Kurdistan region, will spare no effort at this difficult time to find appropriate solutions to diffuse the current tense situation at our borders. The KRG stands ready to fulfill its responsibilities, as part of federal Iraq, to contribute positively in this process. We are committed to continuing our political and diplomatic efforts to solve this problem. We desire the success of these legal, diplomatic, political and reform efforts and endeavors."

Speaking at a press conference later in the day, Massud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, said Iraqi Kurds will establish a commission to work on ways to resolve the PKK issue, which will have talks in the Iraqi parliament and with President Talabani.

Barzani said Iraqi Kurds wanted to resolve the problems with Turkey but rejected "threats." In remarks translated into Turkish, Barzani said: "We are not enemies of Turkey. We are not threatening Turkey's security."

Barzani, in an interview published in the Turkish media Tuesday, called for Ankara to engage in talks with the KRG.

"You do not speak to me, then you ask me to do things against the PKK. How can this be?" he told the Milliyet newspaper. "I am a friend of Turkey but I am not taking orders from Turkey or anyone else."

"Why is Turkey's hostility towards Iraqi Kurdistan? Is it because we are the real problem in Ankara's eyes and not the PKK?" Barzani asked. "We want assurances from Turkey that all these military measures are not against us."

Barazni had harsh words for the way the Turks have been handling the crisis, but also took a hardline against the PKK.

"The PKK will either give up violence or confront not only Turkey but the whole Kurdish nation," he said.

Talabani also took a stance opposed to the PKK in his interview with Milliyet, "PKK should announce a permanent cease-fire and without conditions, for not granting an opportunity for other battles," he said.

Even so, Talabani claimed it would be impossible to clear out PKK camps, as Turkey has demanded.

"Turkey should not asking the impossible from us, there are things possible, and there are things which are not possible, wondering: How can we go to the Qandil Mountains and arrest 5 thousand PKK elements and to hand in them to Turkey?"

Also on Tuesday, a senior Iraqi Kurdish politician blamed the Turkish military for the failure of previous talks between Baghdad and Ankara over the PKK.

Kamel Shaker, head of the Kurdish Communist Party, told AFP, "The failure of the meeting in Ankara was due to the intransigent attitude of the Turkish military, which believes that if it meets with representatives of Kurdistan, they would lose face,."

Shaker said the Turkish military refused to acknowledge the two Kurdish members of the Baghdad delegation, Safeen Dizaye and Imad Ahmed, during the talks.

"The military is adamant in its view. They do not want to meet with the representatives of Kurdistan, or have a dialogue with President Massoud Barzani. They do not want Kurdistan," he added.

Shaker also said that another complication to the talks was the Turkish's sides refusal to accept the deployment of a peshmerga force to patrol the Iraq-Turkey border.

US Efforts

Gen. Joseph Ralston, former NATO supreme commander in Europe and until recently the US special envoy for countering the PKK, told an audience at the Turkish Embassy in DC Monday that the diplomatic process he had managed had produced negligible results.

Ralston was speaking at an event to commemorate Turkey's Republic Day when asked by a reporter about the diplomatic initiative.

"The United States needs to do more" against the PKK, he said, adding that Turkey and Iraq had also been "deficient" in the process.

The Turkish Daily News reports that, in private remarks, U.S. officials said Ralston had submitted his resignation earlier this month after the Bush administration declined to follow his advice on steps to be taken against the terrorist group.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Turkey later this week for a gathering of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors, and will hold talks on anti-PKK measures as a prelude for Erdoğan's scheduled trip to the White House on October 7.

Speaking before members of his AKP party on Tuesday, Erdoğan said he would ask U.S. President George W. Bush to "clearly define road map" in their meeting next week.

"The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is a test of sincerity," said Erdoğan. He added that he will demand an explanation for the U.S. weapons found in the hands of the PKK. "Otherwise, we will do our own job," he said.

Milliyet reported Wednesday that one element of assistance the US will be offering would be to share intelligence on the locations of PKK camps near the border. The newspaper said Secretary Rice is expected to present an offer on intelligence sharing during her visit this week, with the details to be hammered out while Erdoğan is in Washington.

Pentagon spokesman Geogg Morrell, however, told reporters on Wednesday that the US had given Turkey "intelligence with regards to this situation for a long time".

"We are assisting the Turks in their efforts to combat the PKK by supplying them with intelligence, lots of intelligence," he added.

"The key for any sort of military response from the Turks or anyone else is having actionable intelligence and that's a pretty high standard, and we are making efforts to help them get actionable intelligence."

Morrell would not say how the US was gathering the intelligence it shares with Turkey.

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