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Sun 4 Nov 2007 10:40 AM

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Iraq to hunt down guerrillas to appease Turkey

Country promises to step up efforts against PKK diplomatic efforts intensify.

Iraq to hunt down guerrillas to appease Turkey
Around 3,000 PKK rebels, pictured, use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in Turkey. (Getty Images)

Iraq said on Saturday it was ready to hunt down and arrest Kurdish guerrilla leaders responsible for cross-border raids into Turkey in an effort to avert a major incursion by the Turkish military.

Major powers and countries in the region, meeting in Istanbul to discuss Iraqi security, are seeking to ease tensions on the Turkish-Iraqi border that could escalate into a bigger regional crisis.

Turkey wants leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) arrested and seeks the closure of camps in northern Iraq which they use as bases for cross-border attacks in their 23-year-old campaign for a homeland in southeast Turkey.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki met Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul as diplomatic efforts between Turkey, Iraq and the US intensified.

"The prime minister renewed the willingness of the Iraqi government to take steps to isolate the terrorist PKK, prevent any help reaching its members, chase and arrest them, and put them in front of the Iraqi judiciary because of their terrorist activities," Al-Maliki's office said in a statement.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a news conference his country did not rule out carrying out military action jointly with Turkey against the PKK.

Erdogan is to meet US President George W. Bush on Monday and the Turkish premier was upbeat about the outcome of talks.

"I believe this visit will give positive results on the US taking concrete steps at a time when northern Iraq-based terrorist attacks are testing our nation's patience," Erdogan told reporters before leaving for Washington.

Turkey is impatient at what it regards as US and Iraqi foot-dragging over the threat from the PKK and has massed 100,000 troops on the border for a possible offensive against about 3,000 rebels using Iraq as a base.

But the government in Baghdad has little influence over the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north and the success of any measures against PKK militants would depend on the cooperation of Kurdish authorities. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has so far refused to arrest PKK members.

"Soon you will see a number of visible measures implemented on the ground to show our seriousness," Zebari said.

In northern Iraq, a Kurdish official said the regional government had shut down the offices of a political party which sympathises with the PKK, the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, following calls by the Baghdad government.

Guerrilla attacks

The so-called "neighbours' conference", hosted by Turkey, was meant to focus on improving security in Iraq but has been overshadowed by the fall-out from the PKK guerrilla attacks.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has promised more action from the US but provided scant details on how far Washington was prepared to go except to offer improved intelligence-sharing on the PKK.

No major announcements were made during Rice's two-day visit, or at the conference, partly because she did not want to upstage Monday's meeting in Washington between Erdogan and Bush.

Erdogan has come under pressure to act after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in PKK attacks in recent weeks.

The US supports limited strikes by Turkey on PKK training sites but opposes any large-scale invasion.

"All options are on the table. How, when and whether or not to use these instruments is a matter of strategy for us," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference.

Several thousand people protested in the capital Ankara on Saturday, the latest in a series of demonstrations.

"It is clearly unacceptable that Iraq's territory is used to mount cross-border attacks," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Istanbul meeting of dozens of foreign ministers, held in an Ottoman palace on the banks of the Bosphorus.

A declaration after Saturday's meeting of ministers from major Western powers and the region included condemnation of all terrorism in Iraq, applauded bilateral arrangements between Iraq and its neighbours and supported the country's full sovereignty.

"It would blow up the whole region, both inside Turkey and inside Iraq. It is risky to have 100,000 soldiers on the border," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. (Reuters)