Turkey demands military deal with Bush re PKK

The PKK must be getting a bit worried if they return prisoners. There is no mention of the PJAK the group that attacks Iran as usual. The US even arms that group it seems. PJAK and PKK have close relations and the PJAK even uses PKK facilities at times.

Turkey demands military deal with President Bush as price for holding back troopsDeborah Haynes in Irbil and Tom Baldwin in Washington
President Bush will hold crisis talks today in Washington where he hopes to stave off the prospect of a new and perilous front of fighting in Iraq.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, has delayed a final decision on whether to take military action against Kurdish rebels across the border with Iraq until he hears what Mr Bush has to say in their talks today.

Although public opinion in Turkey is pressing for the use of ground troops, diplomatic sources in Washington say that Mr Erdogan’s preferred option – if he decides to take action – would be for airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets inside northern Iraq. He has made plain that he wants US cooperation as the price for exercising restraint, saying of his meeting with Mr Bush in Washington: “I am expecting that this trip will result with the United States taking solid steps.”

The much-anticipated meeting comes as eight Turkish soldiers, captured by the PKK a fortnight ago, were enjoying their first full day of freedom after being released by their captors. Iraqi Kurdish officials said that the freeing of the troops, seized in an ambush in which a further 12 soldiers were killed, showed their desire to help Turkey in its fight against the PKK. The outlawed group, meanwhile, said that the release signalled its willingness to resolve the stand-off with Ankara peacefully.

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Baghdad and Washington are keen to avoid any military operations that could destabilise the only prosperous region in Iraq, while the largely autonomous Kurdish regional government has said that any Turkish challenge to Iraqi sovereignty would be regarded as an act of war.

“I think the meeting is important and a kind of turning point,” said Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of foreign relations for the Kurdish north.

Any incursion would turn “the only secure part of Iraq into something different at a time when we are focusing on reconstruction and rebuilding; trying to focus on education, on health, on improving our economy,” he said.

“Everyone is waiting to see what happens but we are trying our best to communicate to everybody that the best option is the diplomatic and peaceful political option.”

In a welcome development in the lead-up to the meeting, the hostage release yesterday followed an intense period of secret talks by Iraqi Kurdish officials, nongovernmental organisations and other go-betweens.

Handed over at dawn, the eight soldiers were received by Iraqi officials, who delivered them to US military personnel for transfer to Turkish authorities.

Fatma Kurtulan, one of three Turkish Kurd lawmakers who travelled to northern Iraq to help to negotiate the release, said that the men were extremely grateful to be free from the mountainous terrain where they had been held since the ambush on October 21 inside Turkish territory.

Within hours of being freed the soldiers were flown out of Iraq, eagerly phoning relatives once they touched down on Turkish soil. Fouad Hussain, head of the office of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, said that Iraqi Kurdish leaders helped in releasing the soldiers. “This issue proved one thing, that the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi leadership are part of the solution. And they want to have a good relationship with Turkish people,” Mr Hussain said.

The PKK was also keen to make the most of the moment, noting that the “prisoners of war” had been well treated and released without conditions. “This is the proof that we do not want war, we want to solve the problem peacefully through dialogue,” said Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, a spokesman. “We hope that the meeting between Mr Erdogan and Mr Bush will take into consideration our actions, what we did, releasing the hostages. They must answer our needs and demands,” he told The Times.

The outlawed group is fighting to secure better rights for Kurds living in Turkey. It also wants its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, to be freed from a Turkish prison where he is serving a life sentence. “We hope that the release of the hostages will be the beginning of the peaceful way to solve these problems,” Mr Chaderchi said.

Iraqi Kurdish officials have voiced concern that Ankara is using the PKK as an excuse to threaten the growing prosperity and independence that Kurds are enjoying in northern Iraq.

The United States applauded the efforts of the Iraqi Government to secure the release of the soldiers. Sean McCormack, US State Department spokesman, also urged “continued, deepened, and immediate cooperation between Iraq and Turkey in combating the PKK”.


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