Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 6 News List

PKK attacks overshadow Iraq meeting

BORDER TROUBLE Condoleezza Rice urged calm and cooperation between Ankara, Baghdad and Kurds in northern Iraq, but Turkey's foreign minister sounded impatient

AP AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ISTANBUL AND ANKARA, TURKEY

Iraq warned that no one can stop Kurdish rebels in Iraq's remote northern border region from attacking Turkey, as tensions over the assaults overshadowed a major international meeting on Iraq's future.

``It's not in our capacity'' to capture the rebels, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. ``It's not even in the capacity of Turkey.''

Turkey is hosting the session, which includes about two dozen nations and organizations pledged to support Iraq's US-backed government economically and politically.

The guest list includes Iran and Syria, two nations the US blames for furthering instability and violence inside Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat across from Iran's foreign minister at an opening dinner Friday night, but the two had no private meeting -- something Iraq and many other Middle East nations had hoped for.

Until now, Iraq's border with Turkey to the north was not considered much of a problem for US forces or the fragile government in Baghdad. That changed over the past month with an onslaught of attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party rebel group, known by the initials PKK.

The deaths of more than 40 people over the past month have driven Turkey to threaten a major offensive across the Iraq border unless Iraq and the US can neutralize the rebels first.

The Turkish anger came on top of umbrage over a US congressional vote labeling the 1915 deaths of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks a genocide.

Rice urged calm and cooperation in a string of meetings Friday with top Turkish leaders who insisted that Turkey will do what it must to stop the rebel attacks.

She made a similar argument later in a separate meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government has said it will not stand for any cross-border assault. Al-Maliki agreed with Rice that the PKK is a terrorist threat, but he does not have the forces or political strength to do much about it.

The Kurdish rebels operate in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region, an oil-rich sector that has Iraq's lone fully functioning government and sound economy. Turkey, the US and the Baghdad central government have all said that any meaningful action against the rebels must come at least partly from the Kurdish regional government.

Turkey accuses the Iraqi Kurds of helping the PKK or at least looking the other way, and the US has said the Kurds are ``inactive'' against the PKK.

``Iraq is ready to take joint measures ... to isolate and stop the threat of the PKK within the capacity of Iraq,'' al-Dabbagh said. He said al-Maliki would suggest some new approaches during an international meeting later yesterday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan sounded impatient following a meeting with Rice in Ankara, and he offered no public promise of the restraint Washington seeks.

``We have great expectations from the United States,'' Babacan said. ``We are at the point where words have been exhausted and where there is need for action.''

Many Turks are furious with the US for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down on the PKK. Street protests have urged the government to send forces across the Iraqi border even if it means deepening the rift with the US, a NATO ally.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the US a de-facto deadline of Nov. 5, the day he plans to visit Washington to discuss the Kurdish issue with US President George W. Bush.

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