Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Iraqi, Turkish and U.S. authorities need to work together to curb cross-border attacks into Turkey by Iraq-based Kurdish extremists. An unannounced visit by Rice to Iraq Tuesday was overshadowed by Turkish air and ground action against PKK rebels in northern Iraq. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Rice made the surprise trip to Iraq from Paris to again press Iraqi political leaders to take advantage of recent security gains to pursue national reconciliation. But she arrived amid renewed Iraqi-Turkish tensions over Turkey's latest military moves against the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party.
Turkey on Sunday staged air-strikes against Kurdish villages in northern Iraq believed to harbor PKK rebels, who have waged a campaign of attacks in support of autonomy for the Kurdish region of Turkey. That was followed by a brief ground incursion by a reported 300 Turkish troops early Tuesday in a remote Iraqi border area.
Northern Iraq has been the country's most stable region but the relative calm is jeopardized by the activities of the PKK, which the United States has long listed as a terrorist organization.
At a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad, Secretary Rice said United States, Iraq and Turkey share a common interest in stopping the activities of the PKK, which she said threaten to undo the stability of the northern region:
"The United States has constantly counseled that we need an overall, comprehensive approach to this problem, that no one should do anything that threatens to destabilize the north. As to the activities, things unfortunately do go on along this border," said Rice. "As to the activity this Sunday, this was a Turkish decision and we have made clear to the Turkish government that we continue to be concerned about anything that could lead to innocent civilian casualties or to a destabilization of the north."
Turkey has said it has a right to combat the separatists, whose presence in Iraq it contends is at least tolerated by the mainstream Iraqi Kurdish factions who govern the area.
Appearing with Rice, Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari said the Baghdad government has protested the latest Turkish military moves. He said unilateral action by Ankara harms the interests of both Iraq and Turkey, but that Baghdad authorities "fully appreciate the legitimate security concerns" Turkey has about the PKK.
"We have shared, common goals here. We want stability and security in Iraq and with Iraq's neighbors in the border areas. The PKK presence is unacceptable," said Zebari. "The PKK has conducted terrorist activities against Turkish interests and civilians, and their presence is not acceptable either by the Iraqi government or the KRG authorities."
The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, refused to meet with Rice in Baghdad because of what aides said was tacit U.S. support for the latest Turkish air strikes.
A Barzani spokesman said the United States supervises Iraq air space and thus it is not possible that an incursion by Turkish planes could occur without U.S. knowledge.
The White House said Tuesday the United States continues to share intelligence on the PKK with both Turkey and Iraq. But officials here refused comment on a Washington Post report that "real-time" U.S. intelligence has helped Turkish authorities target the PKK in recent attacks.