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U.S. Air Strike Kills 11 In Iraq

U.S. helicopters opened fire on a group of men the military says were planting roadside bombs north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 11 Iraqis, including at least six civilians, according to a spokeswoman.

The suspected militants ran into a nearby house after the initial engagement and the Apache helicopter continued to fire at them, said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry, a military spokeswoman in the area.

Six civilians and five military aged men were killed. Five people were wounded and evacuated to a hospital in nearby Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, she said, adding it was unclear how many of the men were in the group who were allegedly planting the roadside bombs.

Kageleiry had said eight military aged men were among those killed but later revised the figure to five and said an investigation was under way.

She expressed regret for the deaths of the civilians but blamed the insurgents for putting their lives in danger by running into the house to escape attack by the U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that his country could not "wait forever" for the Iraqi government to deal with the threat posed by Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq.

Speaking in London after a meeting with his British counterpart, Erdogan recognized northern Iraq as one of the most peaceful areas inside his neighboring country, and said for that reason "it is wrong to allow terrorist organizations to exist in that part of the country".

He said he had met with Iraqi officials repeatedly, asking them to crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged war against the Turkish state from bases inside northern Iraq.

"We have shown expectations with respect to what should be done about the terrorist organization in north… We waited for 14 months for this mechanism to bear fruit, and we cannot wait for ever. We have to make our own decisions," Erdogan said.

Erdogan was quoted Tuesday in the country's leading daily, Hurriyet, as saying U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked of a possible joint U.S.-Turkish operation against the rebels during a telephone call Sunday.

Britain has backed the United States in trying to keep Turkey from crossing into Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels based there. The U.S. and others fear a Turkish attack could lead to widespread bloodshed in one of Iraq's few relatively peaceful areas.

At the joint news conference in London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, "we condemn absolutely and unequivocally the terrorist violence of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party)."

On Monday British Foreign Minister David Miliband joined Rice in urging Iraq and Turkey to work together to deal with the outlawed PKK, Both the U.S. and Britain consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

Turkey's foreign minister rejected Tuesday any cease-fire by Kurdish rebels as he met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to press them to crack down on the guerrillas, as Turkish forces massed and tensions rose over the threatened military incursion.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there are several ways to fight terrorism and Turkey would use them when appropriate.

"There are political dialogue, diplomacy, economic and cultural tools as well as military measures," he said at a joint news conference after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

But he rejected any offer of a cease-fire by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.

"Cease-fire is possible between states and regular forces," Babacan said. "The problem here is that we're dealing with a terrorist organization."

Zebari called the crisis "complex and grave" and expressed hope that a diplomatic push would help stave off any incursion, which Iraqi and U.S. leaders have warned would threaten the relative peace in northern Iraq.

In other developments:

  • The State Department so badly managed a $1.2 billion contract for Iraqi police training that it can't tell what it got for the money spent, a new report says. Because of disarray in invoices and records on the project - and because the government is trying to recoup money paid inappropriately to contractor DynCorp International, LLC - auditors have temporarily suspended their effort to review the contract's implementation, said Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr.
  • Visiting Prague, U.S. defense chief Robert Gates is expected to discuss with Czech officials the future of their country's contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Czech Republic has troops in both countries. On Monday the government decided, subject to approval by parliament, to reduce its troops in Iraq from 100 now to 20 next year and to increase its presence in Afghanistan from 250 to about 480, according to a senior Czech official. Gates was also discussing the Czechs' continuing support for a controversial U.S. missile defense site.
  • South Korea's president said Tuesday the government has decided to extend the country's troop deployment in Iraq for another year, a move expected to face tough opposition in parliament. "The government plans to submit a bill to the National Assembly, seeking to downsize our troops in Iraq by half by the end of this year, then withdraw all remaining troops by December of next year," South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said in a nationally televised address on Tuesday. "To be more clear, we're seeking to push the government's promised deadline of withdrawing our troops, that was set by the end of this year, to next year," he added.
  • Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a joint statement Monday urging Iraq and Turkey to work together to stave off the need for a Turkish invasion.

    "We continue to believe that cooperation and coordination between Turkey and Iraq is the most effective means to eliminate the PKK threat," Rice and Miliband said.

    Turkey's overnight military movements followed Sunday's rebel ambush near the Iraqi border that left 12 Turkish soldiers dead, 16 wounded and eight missing.

    For five hours, several helicopters ferried commando units and pro-government Kurdish village guards toward the border, reporters said. The governor's office said more combat-experienced units were being deployed.

    Dozens of Turkish military vehicles loaded with soldiers and heavy weapons rumbled toward the Iraqi border Monday. Turkish F-16 warplanes were also ready to take off from several bases in southeastern Turkey, according to local reports.

    In response to Sunday's rebel attack, Turkish troops, backed by Cobra helicopter gunships, have killed 34 guerrillas, the military said.

    Eight soldiers were reported missing by the military Monday. The rebel group claimed they have captured the soldiers and released their names.

    Turkish officials, however, said the search was continuing for soldiers from Sunday's attack and would not comment on the rebels' claims.

    If confirmed, the seizure would be the largest since 1995, when guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to northern Iraq before releasing them two years later.

    The rebel group Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, on Monday called on Turkey not to attack Iraq, claiming that a unilateral rebel cease-fire declared in June was still in place although it did not halt fighting.

    "We have not officially ended the cease-fire," the group said, according to the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency. "We're stating clearly that if the Turkish state stops its attacks then increased tensions will be replaced with a clash-free environment."

    However, the rebel group said it was determined to defend itself against Turkish attacks.

    Turkey has rejected several past unilateral cease-fires declared by rebels, saying it would keep fighting until all rebels surrender or are killed.

    In the past, rebels have pressed ahead with attacks despite cease-fires, on grounds that they were defending themselves.

    Sunday's ambush outraged an already frustrated public. Demonstrations erupted across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the U.S. and European leaders.

    Funerals were held for the slain soldiers on Tuesday in several cities and several thousands of mourners, waving flags, chanted: "Martyrs never die! The nation will never be divided!"

    "Martyr" is a term used by Turks for soldiers killed in combat.

    The United States is pressing hard to keep Turkey from invading northern Iraq and possibly further destabilizing Iraq and the region.

    The U.S. designates the PKK as an international terrorist organization.