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Iraq Moves on Rebel Fighters to Smooth Relations with Turkey

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to ease tensions with Turkey by cutting off resources of Kurdish PKK rebel fighters near the Turkish border. Iraq's Kurdish deputy prime minister and Turkey's ambassador to the United States present their countries' viewpoints.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Turkish military convoys continue to roll toward the Iraqi border today. As some 60,000 troops massed along the frontier, international diplomatic efforts intensified to head off any Turkish incursion against Kurdish rebels in the mountains of northern Iraq.

    Tensions have increased in the past two days, since 12 Turkish soldiers were killed and eight more abducted in a cross-border ambush by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The ambush sparked demonstrations across the country, with thousands of Turkish citizens calling for an immediate strike against rebel bases in northern Iraq, where an estimated 3,000 PKK guerrillas are hiding.

    Ankara says the PKK is responsible for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its campaign two decades ago for an independent ethnic homeland for Turkey’s 12 million Kurds. After talks in Baghdad today aimed at diffusing the tensions, Turkey’s foreign minister rejected a PKK cease-fire offer and said there were several ways to fight the rebels.

  • ALI BABACAN, Foreign Minister, Turkey:

    Turkey’s a country which respects and defends political unity of Iraq, territorial integrity of Iraq. These are matters of principle for us. But on the other hand, fighting against terrorism is another matter of principle for us, and these two principles are not conflicting with each other. In order to fight with terrorism, we have many tools, economic tools, consul tools, political dialogue, diplomacy, and military action.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    For his part, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, hoped the stepped-up diplomatic activity would stem the crisis.

  • HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraqi Foreign Minister (through translator):

    I generally consider myself an optimist, but the crisis is complex and grave. It is a dangerous situation. We are hoping to not reach a breaking point. That is why we hope that the efforts we are making along with the Turkish government, including this visit and the other meetings to be held in the future, will achieve the desired results.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the PKK’s offices be shut down and its funds frozen. Last week, Turkey’s parliament gave its approval for the military to launch incursions against PKK rebels fighting in Northern Iraq.

    Today, Turkish Prime Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in London for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, warned again Turkey would defend itself.

  • RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister of Turkey (through translator):

    The Iraqi government must know that we can exercise this mandate, which we have received from the Turkish parliament, at any time.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    U.S. and Iraqi officials have cautioned that a Turkish military move could destabilize the region.

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