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Turkish, Iraqi, US Officials Discuss Kurdish Rebels in Northern Iraq

  • Amberin Zaman

Senior Turkish, U.S. and Iraqi officials met for the first time in Ankara Tuesday to discuss possible action against Turkish Kurdish rebels based in Northern Iraq. the talks coincided with the arrival in the Turkish capital of the head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid.

Emerging from the three-way talks held in Ankara, Iraqi deputy foreign minister Hamid al-Bayati said the sides had agreed on the need to take action against the rebel group known as PKK-Kongra-Gel. Measures included sharing intelligence and cutting off logistical and financial support for the 5,000 member militia that waged a 15-year long insurgency in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast region.

The rebels called off their campaign for Kurdish independence following the capture of their leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 and withdrew to bases in the mountains separating Iran from Iraq. But they ended their unilateral truce five months ago, citing Turkey's refusal to negotiate a lasting peace. Scores of rebels and Turkish troops have died in sporadic clashes that have resumed across the southeast region.

Turkey has stepped up pressure on Washington to take action against PKK Kongra-Gel, which is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. But the United States has failed to move against the rebels saying that it cannot afford to open a second front in Iraq when its forces are fighting Iraqi insurgents. Washington's stance on the PKK issue has sharpened anti-American sentiment in Turkey that has been running high ever since the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

Mr. Bayati confirmed that, during Tuesday's talks, no decision had been made to launch a strike against the PKK rebels. He indicated that Iraq's priority for now was to ensure that elections for a new Iraqi interim government scheduled for January 30 take place.

The head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, confirmed that the PKK issue had come up during talks but he declined to elaborate. General Abizaid also confirmed that he had raised the issue of American use of Turkey's Incirlik airbase, from which U.S. and British warplanes patrolled the no-fly zone over northern Iraq between the end of the first Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He did not specify what additional use the United States might have for the base. Right now, tanker planes taking off from Incirlik refuel U.S. Air Force jets heading for Iraq.

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