Iraq condemns PKK's raids into Turkey but won't move against group

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 20, 2011 

BAGHDAD — Iraq's central government and Kurdish regional authorities on Thursday condemned Kurdish PKK militants for their latest lethal attacks on Turkish security forces. But they left it to Turkey to crack down on the movement, which operates out of northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry, headed by Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, roundly condemned the PKK incursion into Turkey and offered no criticism of its powerful neighbor, which launched air and ground operations inside Iraq Wednesday after PKK attacks killed 34 Turks, including five civilians.

But the Kurdish regional government in Erbil, whose security forces would have to enforce any Iraqi action against the PKK, took a more nuanced stance, indicating that while it would not come to the aid of the PKK, it also would not crack down on the movement.

"We have no intention of sending any reinforcements to the site of the conflict on the border," said Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga defense force, adding that this was "because force is not the answer."

In Ankara, the Turkish General Staff said 22 battalions, about 10,000 troops, were taking part in operations against the PKK. About 1,000 Turkish commandos, gendarmes and special forces, backed by Cobra helicopter gunships and warplanes, were inside Iraqi territory, Turkey said, scouring the mountainous region in search of PKK guerrillas and their training camps. It said 21 guerrillas had been killed in the counterattack.

But Yawar, the peshmerga spokesman, claimed that no Turkish troops had crossed into Iraq as of Thursday morning.

"The Border Operations Center is fully aware of all the military developments at the border," Yawar said. "No land breach has been registered, and no Turkish ground force has crossed onto Iraqi soil." He added that Turkish bombardment of northern Iraq, which began on Wednesday and resumed at dawn Thursday, had not caused material damage.

The latest clashes between Turkey and the PKK — the Turkish initials for Kurdish Workers' Party — added to fears in Iraq that as the United States draws down its military presence to zero by Dec. 31, Iraq's fragile central government will be unable to pick up the slack and prevent clashes among the country's ethnic and religious groups.

On Thursday, the U.S. turned over control of military activities in northern Iraq to the Iraqi army at a brief ceremony in Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A convoy of more than 100 U.S. military vehicles was later seen moving south from Tikrit, heading toward Persian Gulf ports where equipment is being loaded for shipment back to the United States.

The attacks earlier this week have infuriated the Turkish public, which staged demonstrations across the country Wednesday. There was a second round of demonstrations Thursday as funerals were held for the fallen soldiers.

The United States, its European allies and other countries have designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, but Kurds living on both sides of the Iraq-Turkey border have supported the group's aims, to achieve more autonomy for Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry on Thursday made no mention of the PKK's political aims but charged that the aim of the latest attacks on Turkey "is to demolish border security, undermine trust and to damage Iraqi-Turkish relations."

Voicing sympathy for the families of the fallen Turkish soldiers, it pledged the backing of the government in Baghdad and the regional authorities in Kurdistan "to maintain the security of the borders, and to cooperate with the Turkish government to prevent the recurrence of such acts."

The words don't provide a great deal of reassurance. Forces under the command of the central government do not operate in Kurdistan, and the Kurdish peshmerga forces are unwilling to carry out operations against the PKK.

(Special correspondents Ipek Yezdani in Istanbul and Sahar Issa in Baghdad contributed.)

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