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Turkey: No Iraq Offensive Till U.S. Visit

Turkey will wait until the prime minister visits Washington in November before deciding on a cross-border offensive into northern Iraq, the country's top military commander said Friday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets President Bush in Washington on Nov. 5. "The Armed Forces will carry out a cross-border offensive when assigned," private NTV quoted Gen. Yasar Buyukanit as saying. "Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to the United States is very important, we will wait for his return."

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government demanded the extradition of Kurdish rebel leaders based in Iraq's north. Amid talks with a visiting Iraqi delegation, Turkish war planes and helicopters reportedly bombed separatist hideouts within the country's borders.

Despite repeated Turkish demands for more action from both the United States and Iraq, U.S. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said he plans to do "absolutely nothing" to counter Kurdish rebels operating from the region.

Just Thursday Erdogan said that U.S. objections would not stop Turkey from crossing into Iraq to eliminate Kurdish rebels.

The Bush administration is urging Turkey not to launch an incursion that would destabilize Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north, the country's most stable region. But Erdogan said the U.S. desire to protect the north would not hinder Turkey's fight against the rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who use mountain bases to rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to carry out attacks against government forces in the heavily Kurdish southeast.

"They (the Bush administration) might wish that we do not carry out a cross-border offensive, but we make the decision on what we have to do," Erdogan said during a visit to Romania. "We have taken necessary steps in this struggle so far, and now we are forced to take this step and we will take it."

The leader of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, used as a base by the PKK, spoke recently to CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer about the rapidly-building tension along the border with Turkey.

Massoud Barzani, seen at left, said there was no military solution to the decades-old conflict between the PKK and Turkey, and urged both sides to reach a political solution.

Barzani told Palmer that during the past three months, as Turkey stepped up its attacks on the rebels using artillery and airstrikes, "they haven't wounded any of the PKK fighters". The claim contradicted the Turkish military's purported count of 64 militants killed.

Elizabeth Palmer writes on her interview with Massoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq's Kurds

"If Turkey comes up with a peaceful solution, and the PKK refuses it, we are ready to do anything against the PKK. But if Turkey is using the PKK as an excuse to fight with us, we are ready to defend ourselves," Barzani said.
(AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)
His comments revealed the deeply-rooted mistrust between Kurds and Turks that drives the simmering conflict in Kurdish Iraq. The stability of the region, which remains a bastion of relative peace and tranquility in Iraq, would be destroyed by an all-out battle between Turkish forces and the PKK. (Special Report)

Asked whether he would support U.S. military action to crackdown on the PKK, he again said it would bring no positive results. The border region is rugged and mountainous, and the militants know the area well.

"Even if all the U.S. Army goes in, they won't find one PKK guerilla," Barzani said.

"We are totally determined to take all the necessary steps to end this threat," Gul said in Ankara before a visit by a delegation of high-level Iraqi officials.

Turkey is "expecting them to come with concrete proposals - otherwise, the visit will have no meaning," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said.

The delegation is headed by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi and will include Minister of State for National Security Sherwan al-Waili, said Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"The political choice will be the first solution to solve the crisis. The Iraqi government insists on dialogue and cooperation to solve the crisis," Majid said.

Iraq has promised to shut down offices used by rebel bases. But Turkey wants Iraq and U.S. forces to destroy the bases and extradite the rebel leadership to Turkey.

Turkey's top leadership has called for both an incursion and economic measures against northern Iraq if Turkey's demands are not met. The self-ruling Kurdish administration in Iraq's landlocked north relies heavily on Turkish investment and fuel imports.

Turkish troops have killed hundreds of Kurdish rebels since Jan. 1, the state-run Anatolia news agency said, citing military sources. It did not say how many Turkish soldiers have died, but about 30 troops have been killed this month alone.

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