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Turkey 'can't wait forever' on PKK

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Turkey warns incursions imminent if Kurdish rebels not quelled
  • Iraqi PM orders PKK offices to be shut, assets to be frozen
  • Turkish foreign minister, in Baghdad for talks, rejects Kurdish cease-fire offer
  • Turkey accuses Kurdish separatist group of launching attacks from Iraqi territory
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's government Tuesday repeated a pledge to shut down offices of the Kurdish rebel movement that has triggered a border crisis with Turkey, but Turkey's prime minister said his government "cannot wait forever" for results.

Turkish forces patrol a road in the province of Sirnak on the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Tuesday that Iraqi authorities will shutter the offices of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq's Kurdish territories.

The group has battled for autonomy for Kurds in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades, and Turkish authorities blame the group for the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are massing along Iraq's northern frontier. 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."

The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and al-Maliki used the same term to describe it Tuesday. He 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.

But his government also said it would shut down PKK offices in September 2006 "in order to maintain good ties with Turkey and other neighboring countries." And Iraq and Turkey signed an agreement to clamp down on the PKK this September -- but within days, PKK raids in southern Turkey had left nearly 30 people dead, triggering calls for strikes into Iraq.

Another 12 soldiers were killed and eight were reported missing after a firefight between the guerrillas and Turkish troops Sunday. And in an appearance with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Erdogan turned up the pressure on Iraqi officials by declaring that his military is prepared to take action against the PKK inside Iraq.

"We did establish a mechanism earlier which included Turkey and Iraq, and we waited for 14 months for this mechanism to bear fruit, but it did not," he said. "We cannot wait forever for this mechanism to yield a result, and so we have to make decisions."

The PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire Tuesday, raising some hopes that a Turkish incursion could be averted. But Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said after talks with Iraqi officials in Baghdad that a cease-fire "is something between two countries or two militaries, and not with a terrorist organization."

Babacan said the existence of the PKK is creating "serious problems" for Turkey, and public anger over the recent attacks is "huge."

"What people would like to expect from all of our neighbors is to show solidarity and support for Turkish endeavors for fighting against terrorism," he said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd, said Baghdad "will actively help Turkey to overcome this menace."

"We will not allow any party or any group, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations," Zebari said.

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 4-year-old Iraq war into conflict.

The United States fears strikes by its NATO ally 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 "full-court press" to persuade Iraq to move against the PKK and to keep Turkey -- a NATO ally -- from launching an attack.

"What needs to happen is that the Iraqis, acting on their own accord and in cooperation with the Turks as well as us, need to act to prevent further terrorist attacks. That's an immediate issue," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington. "What needs to happen over the medium-to-long term is that the PKK is dismantled and eliminated as a terrorist organization operating from Iraqi soil."

In addition, the Bush administration is lobbying against a non-binding resolution in the U.S. Congress that would label the mass killings of Armenians during the Ottoman era as "genocide" -- a term opposed by Turkey. The killings are a historical sore spot for the Turks, who have threatened to curtail U.S. access to bases on their territory if the resolution passes.


On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband jointly urged Iraq to take "immediate steps" to prevent Kurdish separatists from carrying out attacks against Turkey. They also proposed a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on November 2 and 3 to discuss diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

"At a time when we are seeing real progress in the security situation inside Iraq and efforts to promote peace in the region, the Iraqi government must demonstrate its commitment to regional stability," the statement said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Jamjoom in Baghdad, Hada Messia in Ankara and Elise Labott in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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