Rice fails to ease Turkey's anger over Kurdish rebels

ISTANBUL — Turkish officials indicated Saturday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had failed during two days of talks to persuade them not to send troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish rebels based there.

Even before Rice's plane had left the ground here to take the secretary to Israel for Mideast peace talks there, Turkish officials briefing reporters said they'd heard nothing new during her visit and that tens of thousands of Turkish troops would remain poised at the Turkey-Iraq border.

"All options are on the table. How, when and whether or not to use these instruments is a matter of strategy for us," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference.

That means it likely falls to President Bush to persuade Turkey to hold back from military action when he meets Monday in Washington with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Any widespread Turkish incursion into Iraq would be a major embarrassment for the United States, which is responsible for Iraq's security, and would risk destabilizing the one region of Iraq that is relatively peaceful and enjoying an economic boom.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq sent police and local militia forces to close the offices of a Kurdish political party closely aligned with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as the rebels are known.

But there were no signs that Saturday's raids would extend into the mountain hideouts of the outlawed rebel group, and no arrests were made of leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, which Turkey alleges is a PKK front.

For months now, the Turkish government has been pressing Iraq and the United States to root out PKK fighters from Iraq's Kandil Mountains, where the Turkish government says the PKK has found safe haven to orchestrate deadly cross-border attacks on Turkish troops.

In the past month, rebels have killed 30 Turkish soldiers and captured eight in border battles. Thousands of rebel fighters are said to be training on Iraqi soil.

Turkey has been frustrated by the lack of action by Iraq and the United States to root out the rebels, who've been battling Turkey for nearly a quarter century over the rebels' goal of establishing an autonomous Kurdish state inside Turkey. Last month, Turkey's parliament authorized its military to take action inside Iraq to stop the attacks.

Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki pledged during a meeting of regional leaders in Istanbul that his country would "take steps to isolate the terrorist PKK, prevent any help from reaching its members, chase and arrest them, and put them in front of the Iraqi judiciary because of their terrorist activities."

But Maliki's government has little influence in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Kurdish leaders there have made it clear in recent weeks that they have little interest in cracking down on the group.

The lack of U.S. action against the PKK also has inflamed anti-American opinion in Turkey, a NATO ally. Recent public opinion polls have shown only 2 percent of Turks agree with American foreign policy. Seventy-four percent of those responding to one poll said the PKK's presence in northern Iraq was the "most thorny obstacle in Turkish-American relations."

Erdogan has noted that recently captured PKK fighters have been armed with U.S. weapons, including M-16 rifles. Turkish experts believe the rebels also have U.S. ground to air weapons, a threat to Turkish helicopters.

"Turkey wants to trust the U.S., but we feel we have been very patient in dealing with a national threat, and the current mood is not simply that we have been ignored by the U.S. in this matter, but that we have been betrayed," said Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to the United States.

Turkish nationalists — who are not in power but have a strong voice here — have suggested recently that Turkey's interests are more in line with Russia, Iran and China than with the United States. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Ralston, who stepped down recently as the State Department's special envoy on the PKK issue, told McClatchy Newspapers last week that he feared U.S. policy was pushing Turkey toward aligning itself with Iran.

"Even if the U.S. does not support the PKK, as people here suspect, the PKK is thriving in a nation the U.S. controls, and is using weapons made by the U.S.," said Sedat Laciner, director of Turkey's International Strategic Research Organization. "We have been asking for their help for years. It would now take one day for the U.S. to turn around Turkish opinion, but that day would have to include direct action against the PKK."

Kurdish officials in Iraq refused to explain the reason behind the raids on Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party offices in Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, or in the region's second largest city, Sulaimaniyah. An official with the region's militia, the peshmerga, told McClatchy Newspapers that the raids had targeted the party because it was sympathetic to the PKK and that its leaders would be arrested "if they did not cooperate." The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.

But there was no effort to arrest the party's founder, Dr. Fayeq Mohamed Golpy, an acknowledged PKK sympathizer who was reached at his home in Sulaimaniyah by phone.

Golpy said he wasn't at either of the party offices when they were shut down and that police also did not come to his home. He blamed efforts to please Turkey for the raids.

"There is great pressure from Turkey on Kurdistan to do something about the PKK," Golpy said. "This pressure was seen in the tactic today used by security officers, who closed our offices."

Golpy said Kurdish regional forces arrived at the party's Irbil office in the morning and raided the Sulaimaniyah office in the afternoon.

Golpy said he would continue to support the PKK's goals.

"We as a political party support the struggle of our people in the Turkish part of Kurdistan," Golpy said. "The decision of closing our offices has been done to satisfy the Turkish government. We condemn the closing of our centers, and we consider it an improper action."

(Schofield reported from Istanbul, Calvan, of The Sacramento Bee, from Baghdad. McClatchy special correspondent Yaseen Taha contributed to this report from Sulaimaniyah.)