Turkey, Iraq agree to cooperate
( AP ) - Turkey and Iraq agreed Tuesday to try to root out a Kurdish rebel group from northern Iraq, but Iraq's prime minister said his parliament would have the final say on efforts to halt the guerrillas' cross-border attacks into Turkey.
Turkey has threatened to send troops into northern Iraq unless Iraq or the United States cracked down on the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for mostly Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey. For decades, the group has maintained bases in Iraq's Kurdish mountains.
The proposed counterterrorism agreement is aimed at forcing Iraq to commit itself officially to fighting the rebels.
"We have reached an agreement to spend all efforts to end the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK in Iraq," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki.
Erdogan said the leaders signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to speed up work to finalize a counterterrorism pact.
Iraq's cooperation could possibly avert a Turkish incursion, which is opposed by Washington. The United States says the PKK is a terrorist group, but U.S. forces are consumed by chaos elsewhere in Iraq and want to preserve the Kurdish-dominated north as a rare spot of relative stability.
Al-Maliki's already shaky government has been hit with a series of Cabinet desertions by both Shiite and Sunni Arabs, although the Kurdish portion of his coalition has held fast so far. But some members are questioning their participation, and the prime minister may be wary of angering the Kurds.
While reaching agreement on Kurdish rebels, al-Maliki refused to sign the counterterrorism agreement requested by the Turkish authorities. He said it was not in his power to commit Baghdad to the agreement without first putting it before parliament and his Cabinet, an Iraqi government official said.
The Turkish and Iraqi Interior Ministries had been negotiating such a pact, but the official said al-Maliki was caught off-guard when asked to sign an agreement Tuesday.
The official said al-Maliki refused to sign the anti-terrorism pact because of Kurdish objections to a description of the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The Kurds told al-Maliki that such language would give the Turks a pretext to invade, according to the official.
However, al-Maliki promised to cooperate with Turkey in combatting Kurdish rebels.
"We in Iraq are victims of terrorism. We understand what Turkey wants," al-Maliki said. "We have said that we will establish cooperation against all terrorist organizations, prominently against the PKK."
The PKK, which has had bases in northern Iraq for decades, has killed tens of thousands in attacks since taking up arms for autonomy in southeastern Turkey in 1984.
Turkey's patience has been running thin amid escalated fighting that has left about 80 Turkish soldiers dead so far this year.
Turkey recently reinforced its troops on the Iraqi border, and the military said it was waiting for government orders to move in. Turkey's parliament must endorse any cross-border military offensive.
On Tuesday, Kurdish rebels killed a lieutenant and wounded two pro-government village guards in a roadside bomb attack in the southeastern province of Hakkari, bordering Iraq and Iran, while Turkish generals attended the funeral of a noncommissioned officer, also killed by rebels, in the capital.