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Iraqi lawmakers discuss Turkey

Times Staff Writer

The Iraqi parliament began debate Saturday on a resolution condemning Turkey for its recent decision to authorize strikes against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, as an estimated 15,000 Kurds from a village on the border between the two countries protested the Turkish move.

Debate on the measure, which would urge Iraq’s northern neighbor to rely on peaceful means to resolve disputes, is likely to last several days. Several party leaders in parliament voiced support for such a resolution, but some said the wording must be tempered to also condemn attacks by the Kurdish separatists and voice understanding for Turkey’s position.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s parliament voted to authorize cross-border military raids over the next year targeting fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the main Turkish rebel group, who operate from bases in the mountains of northern Iraq. The vote came after a recent PKK attack killed 13 Turkish soldiers.

Many Iraqi representatives, including in the northern region of Kurdistan, do not support the rebel group and are sympathetic to Turkey’s position. But Iraqis are also keen to demonstrate their sovereignty, particularly as the U.S. continues its military involvement in their country. Another factor at work are the concerns of Iraqi Kurds and their supporters, who fear the Turkish saber-rattling is a pretext for encroaching on Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region bordering Turkey.

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“They have Kurdophobia,” said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Kurdistan Alliance bloc in parliament. “They are afraid of anything Kurdish.”

The United States, trying to relieve tensions between two allies, has been pressuring Iraq to launch an offensive against the PKK. But with Iraq’s fledgling security forces stretched thin trying to keep order in the country’s central region, the chance of a major Iraqi offensive in the near future is slim, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.

The language of the resolution introduced Saturday by parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani “expresses astonishment” at Turkey’s decision and, among other things, calls on U.S.-led military forces in Iraq to protect its borders.

A key debate in the coming days will be whether to label the PKK a terrorist group in the resolution. Several party leaders said such a declaration would be key to the measure’s passage. But others, including Abdul Kareem Enizi, the chief of the Islamic Dawa Party -- the Shiite faction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki -- suggested that the PKK be given asylum in Iraq.

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An estimated 15,000 demonstrators from the border village of Zakho marched Saturday to condemn the Turkish vote, carrying billboards written in Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish and English calling for a peaceful solution to the standoff. Several marchers said their main concern was that civilians would be hurt or killed in the crossfire.

“The regional government should not let the two sides finish their internal fights on our lands,” said Suleiman Barwari, a 51-year-old resident of Zakho.

christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com

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Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Saif Rasheed, Ned Parker, Wail Alhafith and special correspondent Asso Ahmed contributed to this report.


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