BAGHDAD — Turkey announced Friday that its army units had withdrawn from northern Iraq after a week of shelling and ground battles with Kurdish rebels in Iraq's Qandil Mountains.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party — a separatist group that seeks an independent Kurdistan that would include part of southeast Turkey and that the United States considers a terrorist group — declared victory in the conflict. But the Iraqi central authorities stood the most to gain. The government had appeared powerless to halt the Turks, especially as the United States — the central military support for the Baghdad regime — was providing intelligence and political support to Turkey.
Although pressure on the central government was relieved on one issue, the government remained in a tug of war with the United States over a second: the continued U.S. custody of former officials from the late dictator Saddam Hussein's regime who've been sentenced to death for crimes against Kurds.
As Turkey withdrew its troops, the Iraqi Presidency Council announced that it had approved the execution of Ali Hassan al Majid, a cousin of Saddam's better known as "Chemical Ali," for ordering poison gas attacks that killed thousands of Kurds in the 1980s.
An Iraqi court sentenced Majid to death last June for his role in the Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurds, whom Saddam accused of being in league with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. But the U.S. military refused to surrender Majid and two other men sentenced to death in connection with Anfal to Iraqi authorities until the presidency council signed off on their executions.
On Friday the U.S. said it had received no formal request for Majid's handover.
"Our position remains that we will comply with a request to transfer custody once the (government of Iraq) has arrived at a consensus as to the legal process that must be followed with regard to these executions," said Johann Schmonsees, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. "We have not yet received a government of Iraq request in this regard, and will wait to do so before commenting further."
The council didn't approve the executions of two other former Saddam officials who were convicted with Majid: Sultan Hashim al Taie, a former general who willingly surrendered to U.S. forces, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former Republican Guard commander.
The three death sentences have led to a confrontation between Shiite Muslim Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and Sunni Muslim Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, and Maliki expressed dissatisfaction Friday with the Iraqi Presidency Council's decision to approve the punishment of only one of the men, as well as with the U.S. policy.
Hashemi and the Sunni community have campaigned to save Taie from being hanged. Hashemi and the rest of the presidency council say that no execution can occur without their approval, while Maliki says that executions in war-crimes cases, ordered by Iraq's highest court, don't require the council's agreement.
Maliki has been seeking custody of the men for more than four months and will renew a request for them to be turned over to the Iraqi government, said an Iraqi official who's close to the prime minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to make a public statement.
Tariq Harb, an Iraqi lawyer and legal expert, said the decision to send one man to the gallows wouldn't stop the executions of the other two.
"Neither the president nor the prime minister can change, add or lessen the punishment," he said.
Turkey's announced withdrawal followed public demands by the United States that it end its incursion as quickly as possible. According to a Turkish state news agency, Turkish troops were back at their bases by Friday morning. They claimed to have killed as many as 240 Kurdistan Workers' Party fighters and lost 24 soldiers along with three village guards during the battle.
Turkish soldiers poured across the border to hit rebel bases in Iraq last week and eliminate their haven in the rugged Qandil Mountains. While the Iraqi government condemned the incursion, the U.S. did nothing to stop the border crossing.
Also on Friday, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped as he left his church in Mosul. The city has a large Christian community that the Sunni extremist group al Qaida in Iraq long has targeted.
Gunmen waited for Rahho outside the church. When the archbishop walked outside with three other men they sprayed the group with bullets, killing his compatriots, police said. The gunmen surrounded Rahho, took him and sped away in his car, police said.
(McClatchy special correspondent Yasseen Taha contributed to this article from Sulaimaniyah, Iraq.)