Istanbul conference condemns terrorism, Iraq acts against PKK

Participants of an international conference discussing Iraq in İstanbul condemned terrorism and said Iraqi territory should not be used for terrorist attacks on other countries.  


The statement from the two-day conference of Iraq’s neighbors, permanent members of the UN Security Council, the G8 group of countries as well as representatives from the European Union and other major international organizations, is likely to please Turkey, which complains of mounting 

terrorist attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq. 


The conference was held amid tension on the Turkey-Iraq border. Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops along the border with Iraq in preparation for a possible cross-border operation into northern Iraq to hit the PKK bases there. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with his Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, Ali Babacan and Hoshyar Zebari, to discuss the threat and ways to deal with it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also met his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, for one and a half hours for talks on the issue. 


In a sign of a crackdown on the PKK, Iraqi Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq said they closed an office of a party linked to the PKK and that its offices in other cities were also due to be shut down. In İstanbul, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said security would be strengthened at airports in northern Iraq and at entrances of cities in the region to curb movement of the PKK members. He also said Turkey would soon receive “good news” on eight soldiers taken hostage by the PKK after a deadly attack last month on a military unit in the border province of Hakkari. 


Maliki, speaking at the conference, said Iraq should not be a “base for attacks against neighbors,” and vowed to cooperate with Turkey to deal with the threat. “We place great importance on our relations with our brother Turkey… We are aware of the scale of the threat,” he said and added: “We have made a definite decision to close down the offices of the PKK in Iraq. 


We are taking strong measures… We will watch the (PKK) members in the regions where they are based.” 


Maliki also said that Iraq had overcome the threat of civil war, and said this would help regional stability. “Ethnic violence is decreasing… The civil war that Al-Qaeda wanted to spark has been prevented,” he said. “Iraq has overcome the period of danger and is stronger and more experienced today. Our success will help not only us but also you,” he added, addressing Iraq’s neighbors. 


Earlier in the day, Maliki’s spokesman had warned that no one can stop the PKK terrorists in Iraq’s remote northern border region from attacking Turkey. “It’s not in our capacity” to capture the PKK members, Dabbagh said. “It’s not even in the capacity of Turkey.” 


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also addressing the conference, appealed for dialogue to resolve fears of a Turkish offensive against the PKK. “The series of incidents along the border between Turkey and Iraq demonstrates the need for continuous engagement to address concerns,” he told the delegates. “We recognize Turkey’s security concerns.” 


“We are committed to undertake a number of demonstrable, visible measures to disrupt, pacify, isolate the PKK in the north,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari told reporters after his meeting with Rice and Babacan. Asked whether Iraq may consider joint military action with Turkey to clamp down on PKK bases, he said: “I think there is a number of measures to be taken before getting there.” 


Iraq’s territorial integrity “needs to be respected by all,” Zebari said. “We expect our neighbours not to (take) any action that will destabilise the country,” he said. 


The PKK terrorists operate in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region, an oil-rich sector that has Iraq’s lone fully functioning government and sound economy. Turkey, the United States and the Baghdad central government all say any meaningful action against the group 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 United States has said the Kurds are “inactive” against the PKK. 


Foreign Minister Ali Babacan sounded impatient following a meeting with Rice in Ankara on Friday, 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 United States for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down on the PKK. Street protests have urged the government to send forces across the border even if it means deepening the rift with the US, a NATO ally. 


Turkey’s military chief has said the country will wait until after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets with US President George W. Bush next week in Washington to make a final decision about an assault. 


Kouchner warns against incursion 


The İstanbul conference on Iraq was also a scene for bilateral meetings between Babacan and foreign ministers of Germany and France. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, speaking after meeting Babacan, called on Turkey to hold off from a military incursion, saying it was a potentially destabilizing move. 


“I warn them not to cross the border… I want to avoid a destabilization inside a destabilized country,” Kouchner, speaking in English, told reporters here on the sidelines of the conference. He said that an incursion against the PKK in Iraq “will blow up the whole area inside Turkey and inside Iraq,” adding: “This is very risky… a little incident can start everything.” 


The French minister called on Ankara to give Baghdad the opportunity to act against the PKK. “They have to give peace a chance — to give to the Iraqis the time to control their own territory. That is to say to control the PKK,” he said.

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