Iraq to ‘shut down’ PKK operations

Baghdad’s pledge comes as soldiers’ funerals provoke huge protests in Turkey.

The coffin of Vedat Kutluca, who was killed by Kurdish rebels, is carried by gendarmes [AFP]

Iraq has said it will shut down the operations of Kurdish separatists based in the country in a move aimed at heading off a threatened incursion by Turkish troops.

“The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ party] is a terrorist organisation and we have taken a decision to shut down their offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil,” Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said.

“We will also work on limiting their terrorist activities which are threatening Iraq and Turkey,” he said after crisis talks in Baghdad on Tuesday with Ali Babacan, the Turkish foreign minister.

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Profile: The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

But he gave no details on how the rebels could be prevented from launching attacks from their remote mountain bases.
Turkey has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops near the border with Iraq after parliament-granted approval to possible incursions into its neighbour’s territory to pursue PKK fighters there.

Al-Maliki’s comments came as the funerals of 12 soldiers killed by the separatists last week provoked huge protests across Turkey against the PKK.

The soldiers were killed during an ambush on Sunday on a military patrol near the village of Daglica on the Iraqi border, which also left eight soldiers missing.

A pro-Kurdish news agency close to the PKK published what it said were pictures of the eight soldiers said to be held hostage.

“The pictures show that the soldiers are in quite good health,” the Firat news agency, based in western Europe, said on its website, next to 11 pictures of the soldiers by themselves and in groups.


Images of the eight soldiers were later broadcast on a Kurdish television channel.


Tens of thousands of Turks took to the streets across the country on Tuesday to protest against PKK violence as 12 soldiers, killed in an attack at the weekend, were laid to rest.

The funerals turned into seas of red and white as crowds of mourners marched waving the national flag. 

“Hang Apo,” demonstrators chanted in the town of Keksin, referring to the nickname of the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan.

A procession of about 7,000 people, about a fifth of the town’s population, marched behind the casket of one of the dead soldiers.

Traffic was at a standstill in centre of the northwest city of Bursa as demonstrators thronged the main boulevard.

Media ban

They carried huge Turkish flags and portraits of soldiers killed by the PKK in its 23-year campaign for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast.

Turkey has massed troops on the Iraqi
border in anticipation of an incursion [AFP]

Government and military officials attended the funeral ceremonies, held in 11 provinces across the country.

There were also demonstrations against the PKK in other cities.

As newspapers reported clashes between pro and anti-PKK students and other sporadic acts of violence, Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, appealed for public calm and restraint.


“However great the destruction caused by terrorism, the struggle against terrorism can be waged by legal means and only by the state,” he said in a statement.


The government, keen to avoid further tensions, imposed a ban on all media broadcasts concerning the deaths of the 12 soldiers, whose pictures and life stories have featured prominently in the newspapers.


RTUK, the state body that oversees television and radio in Turkey, said the ban was necessary because broadcasting news about the deaths “hurts the psychology of society and public order and creates an image of the security forces as weak”.


Until the ban, television channels had led news bulletins with footage of grieving wives, mothers, fathers and children.

Iraqi offer

Earlier in Baghdad, Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, assured his Turkish counterpart “that the Iraqi government will actively help Turkey to overcome this menace”.

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“We agreed that the position we should take is a common one to fight terrorism. We will not allow any party, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations,” Zebari said speaking at a joint news conference with Babacan in the Iraqi capital.

Zebari did not outline what form Iraqi support for Turkey would take.
“We will co-operate with the Turkish government, to solve the border problems and the terrorism that Turkey is facing through direct dialogue,” he said.
Babacan said that “politics, dialogue, diplomacy, culture and economy” were the measures to deal with the current conflict.

“We do not want to sacrifice our cultural and economic relations with Iraq for the sake of a terror organisation,” he said, in reference to the PKK.

However in London Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, said his country will consider trade sanctions against Iraq.

“We may impose some sanctions with respect to some goods we export to Iraq,” Erdogan told an investors’ conference.

He had earlier said Turkish forces were prepared for military operations against the PKK.

“Right now we are in a waiting stance but Iraq should know we can use the [parliamentary] mandate for a cross-border operation at any time,” Erdogan told a joint news conference with Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister.

Brown condemned the PKK attacks on Turkish forces and said he had offered the help of Britain’s counter-terrorism unit to Ankara.

Kurdish defence

Elsewhere Masrur Barzani, the head of security for the Kurdish regional government, told Al Jazeera the PKK problem cannot be solved by force and said his administration would not tolerate a Turkish incursion.

Baghdad has described the PKK as
a “terrorist” organisation [AFP]

“We hope that Turkey does not export its own problems into our region,” he said.

“But if we, for any reason become the target of a bigger, let’s say, operation then we will do everything we can to defend ourselves.”
Kurdish fighters based in northern Iraq have denied reports of offering a ceasefire if Turkey abandons plans to launch cross-border raids against them. 
A statement on a PKK website had said that the fighters were “ready for a ceasefire if the Turkish army stops attacking our positions, drops plans for an incursion and resorts to peace”.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from northern Iraq, said PKK fighters based in the region had not confirmed the ceasefire offer.
“The leadership based here is denying that at this point of time a truce offer has been made,” she said on Monday, underlining the confusion.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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