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Kurdish troops move toward Turkey

  • Story Highlights
  • A battalion of about 800 militia forces moved closer to the Turkish border
  • Unclear how close to the border Kurdish troops moved, or on what orders
  • Iraqi and Kurdish leaders are being urged to crack down on the PKK
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(CNN) -- A battalion of about 800 militia forces moved closer to the Turkish border over the weekend, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the latest information from the region.

It was not immediately clear how close to the border the peshmerga, or Kurdish troops, moved. Neither was it clear whether Kurdish leaders or Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had requested the troops to move.

Both Iraqi leaders and leaders in the Kurdish regional government have been under pressure to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a rebel group that has triggered a border crisis along Iraq's northern border with Turkey.

Turkish authorities blame the group for the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians in recent weeks, and wants Iraq to handle the rebels inside their territory. However, Turkey has cautioned that it cannot wait indefinitely for Iraq to do so.

The United States and the European Union have designated the PKK -- a group that is looking to carve an independent state out of parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey -- as a terrorist organization. Last week, al-Maliki used the same term when he repeated his intention to shut down the PKK offices in Iraq.

"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," he said.

Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are massing along Iraq's northern frontier, and last week, Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, said his country's "patience has come to an end" over the separatist rebels.

On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that "whenever an operation is needed to be carried out, we will do that. We do not need to ask anything from anyone for that."

His statement came a day after an Iraqi "security and political" delegation met in Ankara with top Turkish officials, including Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, on how to deal with the rebel attacks. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the talks "did not go well." One of the Iraqi diplomats, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi, also said no progress was made during the talks, although he remained optimistic about diplomacy.

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The United States believes a Turkish offensive into Iraq will make the unstable region even more volatile, and says it is doing what it can to stop such an eventuality.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in Ankara for bilateral meetings with Erdogan and Gul. Erdogan is slated to meet with President Bush at the White House on Nov. 5. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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