Iraqis arrive in Turkey for talks

Special to The Times

The Turkish government cautioned Thursday that it alone would decide whether to launch a major assault into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels, striking a defiant note as a high-ranking Iraqi delegation arrived in Ankara and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker urged a peaceful solution.

“We make our own decisions. Why did the United States come to Iraq from tens of thousands of kilometers? The United States should act together with us as a strategic partner,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Romania.

“Both President Abdullah Gul and I told President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Rice that we have to take necessary measures to counter terrorism and we are going to do so.”

A high-ranking Iraqi delegation, including Defense Minister Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim Mifarji, arrived Thursday in the Turkish capital for talks before a planned Nov. 2 regional conference on Iraq, which both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Crocker are to attend.

Looking for ways to defuse tensions, officials of the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan offered conciliatory words Thursday to Turkey over its battle with the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. As many as 100,000 Turkish troops are positioned on the border, and the Turkish parliament last week authorized the government to launch incursions into northern Iraq against PKK bases.

“The PKK is an illegitimate and illegal organization to the Kurdistan regional government,” said the Iraqi region’s spokesman, Jamal Abdullah. “We haven’t helped them with any aggressive activities launched from inside our territory against any neighboring countries.”

Crocker said an American team had arrived in Ankara to help mediate.

“Decisions on where to go from here have to be very carefully taken, consequences have to be weighed. In particular, we have cautioned that military actions across the border could be dangerously destabilizing to the detriment of all our interests,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

Crocker said the Iraqi government should cut off access to the rugged Qandil mountain range, along the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey; monitor all traffic to the region; and create a “lookout list” of PKK leaders.

“Folks heading up that way need to be stopped. Folks coming down need to be picked up to do everything possible to interdict resupply,” he said.

Separately, Crocker said that the deaths of 17 Iraqis on Sept. 16 in Baghdad were “horrific,” but that he still admired Blackwater USA, the security firm involved in the shooting incident.

“Those guys guard my back. And I have to say they do it extremely well. I continue to have high regard for the individuals who work for Blackwater,” Crocker said about the firm hired to protect him in Iraq.

But the ambassador made it clear that he was ultimately responsible for what happened that day. “I’m the ambassador here, so I’m responsible,” Crocker said. “Yes, I certainly do wish I’d had the foresight to see that there were things out there that could be corrected.”

Special correspondents Borg reported from Istanbul and Ahmed from Sulaymaniya, Iraq. Times staff writers Ned Parker and Saif Hameed in Baghdad contributed to this report.