Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Turkey says attack on militants in Iraq `still on the table'

AGENCIES , TEHRAN AND SIRNAK, TURKEY

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan warned yesterday that Turkey could launch an attack on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq on the heels of a similar threat by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday after diplomatic talks with Iraq failed.

"The moment an operation is needed, we will take that step," Erdogan told a flag-waving crowd in Izmit. "We don't need to ask anyone's permission."

Turkish-Iraqi talks collapsed late on Friday after Ankara rejected proposals by Iraqi Defense Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim for tackling Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq as insufficient. The Iraqi delegation left on Saturday.

After talks with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, Babacan said that Ankara had ruled out no option in its fight against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels who have carried out a string of attacks in eastern Turkey.

"We have different instruments. We can use diplomacy or we can resort to military means," Babacan said in Tehran. "All of these are on the table."

"The Turkish people have lost their patience ... We are asking all our friends to support us in this endeavor, our fight against terror," he said.

However Mottaki gave a highly equivocal answer to a question over whether Iran would support a Turkish military strike on northern Iraq against the Kurdish militants.

"I think that we will be able to overcome these small grouplets," he said.

"There are various ways of going about this. We hope our cooperation will allow us to solve this," he said.

The Iraqi authorities also said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that that crisis could still be solved by diplomacy.

"Both leaders agreed the activities of the PKK were damaging the interests of Iraq, Turkey and Iran but stressed that military action is not the only option to deal with it," Maliki's office quoted the leaders as saying.

Iran has in recent weeks been echoing Turkey's frustration over the failure of the authorities in northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish rebels.

The PKK-linked militant Kurdish group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan has been behind a string of deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran in recent months.

Iran's Kordestan, Kermanshah and West Azarbaijan provinces, which border northern Iraq, have substantial Kurdish populations.

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