Turkey skeptical of pledges to stop raids
U.S. efforts to ease tensions and Iraqi promises are rebuffed by Turkish officials.
Published November 4, 2007
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey said on Saturday that two days of meetings with officials from Iraq and the United States on how to stop Kurdish militants who attack Turkey from northern Iraq had produced no new proposals.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, and the premier of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at a conference, in a bid to ease tensions between Iraq and Turkey over the rebels, known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
Iraq pledged it would enact measures to stop the guerrillas. On Saturday afternoon, offices of a political party affiliated with the PKK were shut in at least two northern Iraqi cities. But Turkish officials said the measures had been offered before.
"It has been a meeting with no resolution," a Foreign Ministry official said after the conference. "There have been no tangible steps offered to us."
Iraqi officials said that they were setting up checkpoints in northern Iraq and that Kurdish guerrillas would be arrested if stopped.
Kurdish security forces also shut down the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, which has links to the PKK, in Sulaimaniya and Erbil. The measures were meant to try to forestall a threatened Turkish retaliatory strike, which Iraqi and American diplomats fear would further inflame Iraq.
"The Iraqi government will actively help Turkey to overcome the PKK," Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told reporters after meeting with Rice and Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan. "We are committed to undertaking a number of demonstrable and visible initiatives to disrupt, pacify and to isolate the PKK."
In Sulaimaniya, 40 gun-toting members of local security forces surrounded and raided the party's office. One security force commander said that party members were not from the city and were being ordered to leave.
But a senior party official, Dr. Abu Bakr Majid, said later that party members had been told to go home but had not been ordered out of the city, and that officers told them their computers and other equipment would not be removed.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be identified according to diplomatic protocol, dismissed the raids as theater. "We consider these as secondary steps, nothing sufficient enough to actually resolve the conflict," he said.
He said the Iraqi delegation "tried to create an air of new measures but behind closed doors, they could not offer us anything new."
At the Istanbul conference, Maliki told officials from the United States, Europe and the Middle East that Iraq had overcome the threat of civil war.
"The civil war that al-Qaida wanted to spread has been prevented," he said. "Iraq has overcome the period of anger and is stronger and more experienced today."
The rosy picture painted by Maliki was at odds with the frustration expressed by Turkey, the host of the conference. Turkish officials hinted strongly that if Iraq and the United States did not act swiftly to rein in the guerrillas, Erdogan would decide he had no choice but to strike across the border, Arab and U.S. diplomats said.
Erdogan has set Monday, when he is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House, as a de facto deadline for U.S. and Iraqi action. The Turkish military has indicated that it is willing to wait for Erdogan's return before launching any operation into Iraq.
"Important and immediate measures are as necessary against the terror groups in certain parts of Iraq that hurt neighboring countries as they are against the terror groups inside Iraq that cause trouble for the Iraqi administration," Erdogan said in his opening statement. "A tiny flame can become a wildfire."
A defiant spokesman for the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party said Saturday that if Turkey attacks the group's bases in Iraq's rugged northeastern mountains, the clandestine organization's fighters "will teach the Turks an unforgettable lesson."
Sozdar Avesta, a member of the party's political bureau, told the Associated Press in an interview in Iraq's ungoverned border region that despite international pressure, the guerrilla group would not abandon its decades-long struggle against Turkey.
"We are fighting for the liberation of Kurdish people, we are fighting for our identity, language, our legitimate rights and self-determination," said Avesta, 35, one of a number of female PKK members.
Officials fear that large-scale fighting in northern Iraq could destabilize the relatively peaceful north, and jeopardize gains that U.S. officials say have been made in the rest of the country.
Bozan Takeen, a senior member of the PKK, denied that PKK fighters use Iraqi territories to launch attacks inside Turkey, calling the allegations "baseless."
And he accused Ankara of trying to pit Kurd against Kurd.
"They want the two Kurdish political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to attack us, but this will not happen," he said.
Takeen said the PKK isn't intimidated by the threat of an assault by Turkey, a member of NATO. The Turkish military reportedly has amassed 100,000 troops along the Turkey-Iraq border.
"Turkish attacks will strengthen our determination to struggle harder to gain our rights," Takeen said.