Iraq Warns Turkey against Cross-Border Operations

ANKARA–Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdel Mahdi urged Turkey Wednesday to stop threatening cross-border military operations against Turkish Kurd rebels based in northern Iraq, saying unilateral action will not help resolve problems. Ankara has grown increasingly impatient with US and Iraqi reluctance to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington whose militants have taken refuge in northern Iraq, which abuts Turkey. "Such problems cannot be resolved through unilateral moves," Mahdi told reporters after talks with Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul. "All countries in the region should seek cooperation and respect each other’s sovereignity." The Iraqi leader, a Shiite, also pledged that Baghdad will do "all it can" to prevent the PKK from using Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory. "In Iraq, we are fighting Iraqi groups, be they Sunni or Shiite. It would be unthinkable for us not to fight foreign groups," he said. Ankara says about 3,000 PKK members use Northern Iraq as a training ground, enjoy unrestricted movement there, and obtain arms and explosives for cross-border attacks. It has threatened military incursions across the border if Iraq and the United States fail to curb the rebels, whose 22-year campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey has resulted in more than 37,000 deaths. The Turkish army chief charged at the weekend that Iraqi Kurds "fully" support the PKK and provide it with explosives. Mahdi said Baghdad values Turkey as a neighbor that "has given full support to Iraq during this very difficult period" and wants improved bilateral ties. "Turkey is in close contact with all Iraqis and is doing its best to help extinguish the fire there," Gul said. Washington, too, has warned Ankara against a cross-border operation, fearing it could destabilize a relatively peaceful region of the war-torn country and fuel tensions between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, staunch US allies. Ankara and Iraqi Kurds are already at loggerheads over the future of the ethnically volatile, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to incorporate into their autonomous region although the city is also home to Arabs and Turkish-backed Turkmens. Ankara suspects Iraqi Kurds of planning to break away from Baghdad, which in turn could embolden the PKK’s separatist campaign in Turkey. Mahdi, who met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday, was to wrap up his visit later in the day.

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