Iraq moves to avert another regional conflict

Checkpoints set up, PKK supply lines cuts as Turkish war rhetoric mounts.
Iraq moves to avert another regional conflict
Turkish army commando platoon stand guard near Ikizce in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak. The government is preparing to send troops into northern Iraq. (Getty Images)
By Waleed Ibrahim
Thu 01 Nov 2007 09:38 AM

Iraq said on Wednesday it had set up more checkpoints to restrict the movement of Kurdish guerrillas and cut supply lines to their mountain hideouts following Turkey's demands for firm action against the rebels.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops along its rugged border with Iraq, backed up by tanks, artillery, warplanes and helicopters, in preparation for a possible incursion to crush militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) there.

Baghdad and Washington have urged Ankara to refrain from any major cross-border operation, fearing this could destabilise the whole region, though the Pentagon said on Wednesday it was giving intelligence to Turkey on the PKK needed for military strikes.

Turkey's cabinet met in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss the latest clashes between its troops and the PKK along the border. The cabinet agreed to impose targeted economic sanctions against groups supporting the rebels, a senior government official told Reuters.

Details of the measures were not revealed.

"I cannot discuss the measures we are thinking of," said government spokesman Cemil Cicek. "The measures are directed against the PKK and those that directly support them," he said.

The measures could target Masoud Barzani's autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, which has infuriated Ankara by refusing to crack down on the PKK.

An estimated 3,000 PKK rebels are holed up in northern Iraq.

"There is an increase in checkpoints to prevent the PKK from getting food and fuel. There are measures to prevent them from reaching populated cities," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, told a news conference in Baghdad.

Zebari also said Iraq was trying to free eight Turkish soldiers captured by the PKK last week in southeast Turkey.

"We are expecting to solve this matter because these talks, which are going on through indirect parties, have reached an advanced level," he said at a joint news conference with his visiting Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

Washington, Ankara's Nato ally, has said it does not expect Iraq to take military action against the PKK, but wants Baghdad to establish a "lookout list" of rebel leaders and take steps to disrupt their supply lines.

Ankara says it will exhaust diplomatic channels before launching cross-border strikes, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is under heavy domestic pressure to get tough after an upsurge in PKK attacks inside Turkey.

The US and the EU, like Turkey, brand the PKK a terrorist organisation. Ankara blames the group for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.

"Serious consequences"

Zebari said that in his talks with Mottaki he had warned of "serious consequences if there were a major military incursion into northern Iraq by Turkish military forces. This will have consequences for the entire region".

Despite US concerns over a Turkish incursion, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Washington was providing Ankara with intelligence on the PKK needed for military strikes.

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

"Actionable" intelligence refers to information that can be acted upon, such as information pinpointing the location of a target for a military strike.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the PKK when she visits Ankara on Friday. She is then due to join foreign ministers from Iraq and its neighbours at a conference in Istanbul, though Zebari said he hoped that meeting would focus on his country's wider security and stability.

Russia appealed to Turkey on Wednesday to show restraint.

"We share Turkish concerns over terrorist activities in its southeast, some of which are cross-border," Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing on Wednesday.

"We stick to the position that exercising its legitimate rights, Turkey should realise its responsibility as a regional state so as not to make things worse. Any sharp movements can deteriorate the situation [and] take it out of control."

Historically, Russia is a regional rival of Turkey and in Soviet times is known to have backed the Marxist-oriented PKK. But ties between Moscow and Ankara have improved sharply in recent years amid booming trade, tourism and energy links. - Reuters

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