‘Positive’ Turkey-Iraq talks resume: Iraqi official

ANKARA (AFP) – Crisis talks between Iraqi and Turkish ministers over threats of a Turkish strike on northern Iraq resumed Friday afternoon, an Iraqi embassy source here said.

Iraqi defence ministry spokesman Muhammed Askeri earlier said a first round of talks in the morning had produced “positive” results.

The talks are being held at an Ankara hotel between Iraq’s Defence Minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim and National Security Minister Shirwan al-Waeli and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Interior Minister Besir Atalay.

Commenting on the morning talks that lasted only 90 minutes, Askeri said: “Very important talks are under way. There are positive results, everything is happening as planned.”

A working lunch preceded the second round of talks, in which the two Iraqi Kurdish representatives are also present, the Iraqi embassy source said.

The Turkish side has refrained from all comment on the discussions aimed at dissuading Ankara from launching military incursions against bases of the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Tensions have risen since the Turkish parliament last week authorised the government to order military incursions against the bases of the PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1974.

They peaked after the PKK ambushed a military patrol on Sunday, killing 12 soldiers and capturing eight.

The Turkish army has since massed men and materiel along the border and reported it had killed more than 60 Kurdish rebels in fighting since Sunday’s ambush.

Turkey has long complained of what it calls US and Iraqi inaction in dealing with the PKK in northern Iraq, where the rebels enjoy safe haven.

Washington and Baghdad have vowed to make good on promises to crack down on the PKK, but Turkish leaders, facing strong domestic pressure for rapid military action, have voiced mounting exasperation.

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Turkish planes bomb Kurdish rebels

(CNN) — Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships have been bombing Kurdish separatist positions in Turkey along the Iraqi-Turkish frontier amid continuing diplomatic efforts to avert a major cross-border incursion by Turkish military forces.

CNN Turk, citing Turkish government and military sources, reported the activity and said it had been taking place since Sunday.

The Dogan News Agency also told CNN that aerial strikes had been going on for days, with several F-16 warplanes loaded with bombs taking off from an air base in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

Anadolu news agency reported that aircraft-backed “counter-terrorism operations” were “under way” in southeastern Turkey.

Public pressure is mounting in Turkey for the government to authorise a major strike against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters accused of mounting attacks against Turkish forces and civilians from bases across the border in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Thousands of mourners took to the streets Tuesday for the funerals of 12 soldiers killed in an ambush Sunday.

Meanwhile a Denmark-based Kurdish TV station, Roj TV, broadcast footage it claimed showed eight troops captured by the PKK in the same attack. The film showed eight men standing against a PKK flag with mountains in the background.

The Web site of PKK’s military wing quoted a commander who blamed Erdogan himself for the deaths of the soldiers and “the POWs that we now have.”

Turkey’s military has confirmed that eight soldiers are missing but not reports that they were taken hostage.

Turkey has repeatedly called on Iraq and the U.S. to crackdown on PKK operations within Iraqi territory. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Turkey.

But with tens of thousands of troops in place along Iraq’s northern frontier, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters during a visit to London on Tuesday that cross-border raids targeting the PKK could be launched “at any time” — and warned Turkey could not “wait forever” for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reiterated an Iraqi pledge to shut down PKK offices in the north of the country and said Iraq would not allow its territory to be used as a “launch pad” for attacks on Turkey.

“The government will do its best in order to limit the PKK and its terrorist activities that are a threat to Iraq just like it is a threat to Turkey,” al-Maliki said, following a visit to Baghdad on Tuesday by Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq called on the PKK to abandon its armed struggle.

“The current problems should be solved through political and diplomatic methods,” the statement urged.

“It is necessary to stop using other methods, which are useless, and we demand that the PKK remain committed to the cease fire and not resort to armed operations.”

But Babacan, speaking in Baghdad after meetings with Iraqi leaders, said: “We need more than words. We said that preventing the PKK from using Iraqi soil, an end to logistical support and all PKK activities inside Iraq and closing of its camps are needed. We also said its leaders need to be arrested and extradited to Turkey.”

Babacan also rejected reports of a unilateral PKK cease-fire, saying that a cease-fire was something that could only be agreed “between two countries or two militaries, and not with a terrorist organization.”

The Iraqi central government and Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government are concerned that cross-border action would violate Iraq’s territorial integrity and plunge a region that has escaped the worst of the four-year-old Iraq war into conflict.

The U.S. fears Turkish strikes against the PKK could destabilize the American-backed government in Baghdad and jeopardize supply lines for its 160,000-plus troops in Iraq. Washington has launched a major diplomatic push to persuade Iraq to move against the PKK and to keep Turkey — a NATO ally — from launching an attack.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a joint statement with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, called for a conference to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, next month to discuss diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

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