US presses Iraq to take action on PKK

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WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) President George W Bush assured Turkey that he was pressing the Iraqi government to stop Kurdish rebel attacks on its territory as the United States sought to prevent a Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq.

Bush expressed ''deep concern'' about the rebel attacks and told Turkish President Abdullah Gul yesterday that the United States would continue to urge the Iraqis to take action against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), said Gordon Johndroe, White House National Security Council spokesman.

Bush also spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and agreed to work with Turkey to prevent the Kurdish rebels from carrying out attacks from Iraqi soil, he said.

The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey to show restraint, but Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan faces increasing domestic pressure to use force against the Kurdish rebels after eight Turkish soldiers went missing and at least 12 soldiers were killed in clashes near the Iraqi border.

The United States, worried that Turkish military action could destabilize Iraq's Kurdish region, has stressed to the Turkish, Iraqi and Kurdish leadership that the attacks by the outlawed PKK must stop.

''We want the Iraqi government to take swift action to stop the activity of the PKK,'' White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

But the Iraqi government has little control over the largely autonomous northern region and analysts say the United States must pressure Iraqi Kurds to take action against the rebels to avoid further escalation with Turkey.

''We do not want to see wider military action on the northern border,'' Fratto said. He condemned the attacks and called the PKK a terrorist organization.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the United States could do more to help Ankara, such as by launching special forces operations against the Kurdish rebels.

''Turkey has been asking the United States to assist with routing out the PKK that are in the mountainous areas of northern Iraq for several years and the United States has not been willing to undertake a major operation because it has had its hands full with other challenges in Iraq,'' she said.

In 1995 and 1997, Turkey mounted major military operations into Kurdish-held regions of northern Iraq aimed at clearing the area of the PKK.

Turkey has deployed as many as 100,000 troops, backed by tanks, F-16 fighter jets and attack helicopters along its border with Iraq.

The United States should pressure Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, who has said his region would defend itself if Turkish troops invaded, and whom Turkey does not recognize, said Bulent Aliriza, director of Turkey Project at Center for Strategic and International Studies.

''Somebody's got to lean on the Iraqi Kurds, and only the US can lean on the Iraqi Kurds,'' he said. ''The pressures on Erdogan to act are increasing literally by the hour.'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Erdogan and Barzani on Sunday to make it clear that the United States opposed any unilateral action, and she promised the Turkish leader the United States would push Iraqis to do more to fight the PKK, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Strains have emerged between the United States and Turkey as Washington relies on Ankara, an important NATO ally, for logistic support for U.S. forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US-Turkish relations chilled in recent weeks over a symbolic US congressional resolution calling the 1915 massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks genocide. It was approved by a congressional committee, despite Turkish warnings. Bush reiterated his opposition to the measure when he spoke with Gul, the White House said.

''One of the most negative consequences of the US invasion of Iraq has been the dramatic deterioration in our relationship with Turkey,'' Sherwood-Randall said.

If the United States fails to respond to the current crisis with the Kurdish rebels it will face ''an even greater challenge'' in repairing relations with Turkey, she said.

Reuters AK VP0435

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