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Turkey, Iraq meet as skirmishes continue

Special to The Times

Turkish forces continued to lob artillery rounds at the remote mountain hide-outs of Kurdish guerrillas Wednesday as diplomats from Baghdad and Ankara met to discuss ways to avert an incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan.

A Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, leader said that his fighters had repelled a small Turkish attack on one of their enclaves in the steep terrain of northern Iraq. The PKK official, Rustum Joodi, said five Turkish soldiers were killed in the skirmish.

Border villages where the PKK has created bases for launching strikes against Turkey have been shelled daily since the Turkish parliament last week granted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the right to mount ground offensives in neighboring Iraq against the PKK.

Turkey’s goal to crush PKK strongholds in Iraq has cast a pall on the semiautonomous Kurdish provinces of Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniya, which have provided a haven for a Kurdish renaissance and an oasis of peace in war-torn Iraq.

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The Iraqi government has pledged to crack down on the PKK for its cross-border attacks in Turkey.

And on Wednesday, the White House demanded that Iraqi officials make good on a year-old commitment to close down offices of the PKK.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki promised on a visit to Turkey in November that he would shut down the PKK offices. However, they were never formally closed, and Maliki renewed the pledge this week, as Turkey threatened to send its military across the border to attack PKK sites in northern Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino in a briefing noted Maliki’s restatement of his 2006 pledge, which has been questioned by Turkish officials.

“We can understand why the Turks would be skeptical, because that pledge was made. It does need to be fulfilled,” Perino said. “We’ll be talking to the Iraqis about that as well.”

A senior Pentagon official involved in talks with the Turks said the U.S. also was pressing the Kurdish regional government to take concrete action against the PKK, including severing logistics lines and curtailing the movement of Iraq-based cells of the separatist group.

“There are a variety of different things that might be done to make it, if not impossible, much more difficult for the PKK to operate across the border, that will also be visible to the government of Turkey and the Turkish people,” the official said.

Asked whether the U.S. military would conduct airstrikes on known PKK sites if the Iraqi Kurdish government failed to act, the Pentagon official said he could not comment on operational planning, but added, “I think throughout the senior reaches of the U.S. government, there is increasing sympathy for the Turkish position that something has to be done.”

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Kurdistan regional officials have said that although they do not back the PKK, they believe the attacks are Turkey’s problem.

“We have emphasized many times that Kurdistan Workers Party does not exist in the Iraqi Kurdish cities,” said a statement from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. “They are positioned [in] . . . in rocky terrain. For that it is impossible to arrest them, not to mention handing them over to Turkey.”

Iraqi Kurds have vowed to defend their land in the wake of a large-scale incursion by Turkey. An Iraqi delegation is to travel to Turkey soon in hopes of defusing the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Turkish leaders in Ankara, the capital, on Nov. 2, the day Istanbul begins a two-day conference on Iraq.

As many as 100,000 Turkish troops have been positioned on the Iraqi border, and Turkey already operates three small bases in Iraq, which were granted to it during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

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Special correspondents Ahmed reported from Dahuk and Borg from Istanbul. Times staff writer Peter Spiegel in Washington contributed to this report.


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