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Iraqi Government Cracks Down on Kurdish Rebels

Protesters wave Turkish flags, as a Turkish soldier stands guard during a demonstration in the Kasrik village on the Turkey-Iraq border Tuesday. Turks protested the killing of Turkish soldiers by Kurdish rebels.
Mustafa Ozer
Protesters wave Turkish flags, as a Turkish soldier stands guard during a demonstration in the Kasrik village on the Turkey-Iraq border Tuesday. Turks protested the killing of Turkish soldiers by Kurdish rebels.

Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday that he will close down the Kurdish rebel party's offices in Iraq as part of a pledge to help curb rebels' attacks on Turkey.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who is a Kurd, also said Iraq's central government and authorities in its Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq would work together to limit the rebels' movements and funds.

He said a high-level political and military delegation would travel soon to Turkey.


Troop Buildup Continues on Border

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there are several ways to fight terrorism, and his government would use them when appropriate. Turkey continued its buildup of troops along the border with Iraq, with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight.

Iraqi officials have said guerrillas with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, were based in inaccessible mountainous areas of northern Iraq.

The mix of diplomatic and military activity followed Sunday's rebel attack near the Iraqi border in which 12 Turkish soldiers were killed and 16 were wounded. Eight soldiers went missing.

"We also don't wish our historical and friendly ties with Iraq to be ruined because of a terrorist organization," Babacan said at a joint news conference after meeting with Zebari. "On the other hand, we are expecting support from international community and our neighbors in struggle against terrorism."


Babacan said rebel attacks this month alone left 42 people dead.

The Turkish government on Tuesday asked television and radio stations to curb broadcasts about Sunday's attack, saying they have a negative impact on public order and morale, according to an official at the media watchdog. The official asked not to be named because she was not allowed to speak to the media.

Turkey Rejects Cease-fire

Babacan, meanwhile, rejected any offer of a cease-fire by the PKK.

Cease-fires are possible between states and regular forces, Babacan said. "The problem here is that we're dealing with a terrorist organization."

The PKK has called on Turkey not to attack Iraq, claiming that a unilateral rebel cease-fire declared in June was still in place although it did not halt fighting.

"The position of the PKK is that we have agreed to a cease-fire, but when we are attacked by the Turkish troops, we will hit back," rebel spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

He also confirmed that the rebels were holding eight Turkish soldiers captive and promised to treat them with respect, although he said it was "premature" to discuss conditions for their release.

"When they were attacking us, they were our enemies, but now they are helpless captives whom we will take care of," al-Chadarchi said. "When the Turkish government asks for them, we can talk about conditions."

Turkish officials said the search was continuing for soldiers from Sunday's attack and would not comment on the rebels' claims.

If confirmed, the seizure would be the largest since 1995, when guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to northern Iraq before releasing them two years later.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, told reporters after meeting with Babacan that his country had asked the PKK to stop its attacks or leave the country. He made no mention of the PKK cease-fire he announced Monday.

Zebari said a threat to the stability of Iraq's Kurdish north would have "dangerous consequences," but stressed that Turkey had "legitimate concerns."

Zebari also insisted there was a "resolve and insistence on the part of the Iraqi government" to cooperate with Turkey to resolve the border issue "and deal with the terrorists that Turkey is subjected to."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in London, refused to set a timetable for Turkish action, warning: "We can exercise this mandate at any time."

Erdogan also was quoted Tuesday in the country's leading daily Hurriyet as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked of a possible joint U.S.-Turkish operation against the rebels during a telephone call Sunday.

Neither Babacan nor Zebari mentioned the report, and the U.S. military said it was not aware of such plans.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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