(Middle-East) - Turkey - Iraq's Kurdish leader dismissed the idea of taking "orders" from Ankara to crack down on Turkish Kurd rebel bases in his region as Turkey continued Tuesday to pound positions near their border. Massud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government that holds sway in northern Iraq, regretted Ankara's refusal to hold direct talks on the crisis over the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels.
"You do not speak to me, then you ask me to do things against the PKK. How can this be?" he told Turkey's Milliyet newspaper. "I am a friend of Turkey but I am not taking orders from Turkey or anyone else."
Turkey accuses Barzani's administration of tolerating and even supporting the PKK, which uses bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks across the border on Turkish territory.
Turkey has built up its military presence on the border and on Tuesday a media correspondent witnessed two Cobra helicopters dropping bombs on PKK positions in the Cudi mountains in the frontier province of Sirnak.
Artillery barrages could be heard as one of several Sikorsky transport helicopters dropped off troops and a convoy of 18 military trucks headed for the Iraqi border.
The Turkish military said it had surrounded 100 PKK rebels in neighbouring Hakkari province on Monday, blocking their escape routes to Iraq, but 24 hours later there was no more news on this stand-off.
Four Turkish soldiers were killed in large-scale operations at the weekend several hundred miles north and west in Tunceli, according to media reports.
The military has so far confirmed only one death and officials were also yet to confirm reports that 15 PKK militants were killed in the crackdown in the more central Turkish province.
The Turkish army has reportedly massed about 100,000 troops along the Iraqi border as Ankara threatens a military incursion into northern Iraq after gaining parliamentary approval for such a move earlier in the month.
Tensions along the frontier increased after October 21 when PKK rebels, who Turkey says sneaked from northern Iraq, ambushed a military unit and killed 12 soldiers. Eight troops were captured.
The army has confirmed killing 65 rebels since then.
Although he was defiant on "taking orders" from Ankara, Barzani urged the PKK to lay down arms and called on Turkey to consider a political solution to the Kurdish problem.
"The PKK will either give up violence or confront not only Turkey but the whole Kurdish nation," Barzani said.
He suggesed that Ankara consider a general amnesty for the rebels as part of political efforts to end the 23-year PKK rebellion in southeast Turkey.
Barzani said he was worried that Turkey is using the PKK as a pretext to undermine Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.
Ankara has long suspected the Iraqi Kurds of designs to break away from Baghdad, a prospect that could embolden the PKK campaign in Turkey, which has already claimed more than 37,000 lives.
"We want assurances from Turkey that all these military measures are not against us," Barzani said, adding that he was working for the release of eight Turkish soldiers the PKK says is holding captive.
The crisis will enter a crucial diplomatic stage on Thursday when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Ankara for talks with Turkish leaders.
She will then participate in a multilateral conference on Iraq in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday, which Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will also attend.
Washington, strongly opposed to Turkish military action in northern Iraq, is stuck in an awkward position between two key allies -- NATO member Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.