US: Turkey has right to defend itself

( AP )- Turkey has the right to defend itself against Kurdish rebels based in Iraq but must make sure it does not destabilize its neighbor, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Sunday.

Ryan Crocker made the remarks before news emerged that Turkey had bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Sunday - for the third time in the past week. Turkish warplanes also bombed positions held by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on Saturday and on Dec. 16.

"We've been clear on this. The PKK is a terrorist organization, it has carried out a number of lethal actions in Turkey from bases in Iraq, and the Turks clearly have a right to defend their country and their people," Crocker told reporters in Baghdad.

He made the comments as Turkish jets were bombing an area about 50 miles north of the city of Irbil near the border with Turkey for about an hour and a half.

"At the same time we've also said that we all have a pretty substantial interest in the stability of Iraq and none of us want to see operations pursued in a manner that can threaten basic stability inside Iraq," he said.

Crocker said the issue posed by the PKK was going to "continue to be a complex equation" of coordination and communication between the governments of the United States, Turkey and Iraq.

He said that the United States, Turkey and Iraq all wanted to see "an end to the capacity of the PKK to operate against Turkey from Iraq," but that this had to be done "in a way that does not create problems of stability inside Iraq."

Crocker added that Iraq had to build on some of the security it had achieved during the last half of 2007.

"The positive developments in the latter half of 2007 represent the challenges of 2008," he said.

They included the return of refugees, national reconciliation and the absorption of Sunni Arab volunteer groups known as "Awakening Councils." Equally important, he said, was how Iran defined it's role in Iraq next year - whether it would use its influence to reduce violence or to create further instability.

In other developments, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol in Baghdad killed two civilians Sunday, as attacks claimed the lives of at least five people despite a marked decrease in violence across the country in recent months.

The roadside bomb in southeastern Baghdad's predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zaafaraniyah also wounded four people, a Baghdad police officer said.

Earlier, a local government official in the town of Kut, south of the capital, escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a bomb exploded outside his house.

Abdul-Ridha al-Badri, director of the human rights ministry's provincial branch in Kut, his wife and four sons were injured by shattered glass and falling pieces of the house's facade, a police officer said.

Both police officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information to the media.

To the north, gunmen shot and killed an Iraqi Army officer west of the city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said. Lt. Col. Nayif Muhammed al-Shammari was shot as he drove his car. He was not in uniform at the time, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Also in Mosul Sunday, a parked car bomb targeting a passing police patrol killed a civilian and wounded five policemen, police said. In the Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, one policeman was injured when a roadside bomb exploded as police were attempting to defuse it, police said.

Despite the attacks, Iraq has seen a clear improvement in security in recent months, with the U.S. military saying violence is down by about 60 percent.

The decrease in attacks has been partly attributed to the work of the Sunni groups that used to fight Iraqi forces and the U.S. military, but have now turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and receive U.S. backing.

On Saturday, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi - who is himself a Sunni - said the groups will not be allowed to become a separate military force.

The statement was the Shiite-led government's most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.

The militias, more than 70,000 strong and often made up of former insurgents, are also known Concerned Local Citizens.

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