SPIEGEL ONLINE - October 22, 2007
US Urges Iraq to Act Against Kurdish Rebels
By Jürgen Gottschlich in Istanbul
"Mister President, Mister President, is the PKK a terrorist group or not?"
"Is what? Can you say that again? I didn't understand the question."
A telephone interview on Sunday evening showed just how far communication between political leaders in Turkey and in northern Iraq had broken down.
Mehmed Ali Birand, one of the best-known journalists in Turkey, got a hold of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is also leader of the political party the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. And while a war cabinet sat in Ankara, Birand put pressure on Talabani to say something that would de-escalate the situation -- but without success.
Talabani simply didn't want to commit himself. For 10 minutes, he dodged every question. All he was prepared to say was that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) should, in his opinion, "not create problems here." If the PKK guerillas weren't prepared to lay down their weapons, then they should "return to their countries," he said. Unfortunately he, Talabani, does not himself possess the means to force the PKK to do so, he said.
On Monday, however, he had something more concrete to say. Talibani told reporters that the PKK rebels would announce a ceasefire on Monday evening.
Between both statements lay hours of hectic diplomacy which culminated Monday afternoon in Turkey's promise not to invade northern Iraq for the time being. All diplomatic means would be exhausted before a military operation was launched, said Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.
The White House also said on Monday that the Iraqi government should take "swift action" to stop PKK activities. "We do not want to see wider military action on the northern border," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, adding that the US would work together with all parties to prevent an escalation of the situation.
It remains to be seen how much the pressure and promises will bring. The PKK has openly provoked Turkey's military and nobody really knows if the rebels can be successfully brought under control. On Monday, a pro-Kurdish news agency reported that the PKK had captured eight Turkish soldiers. The Turkish military confirmed that eight soldiers had been missing since clashes with Kurdish rebels on Sunday in the border area.
Anger Grows in Turkey
The political situation in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq is complicated. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish autonomous region and Talabani's political rival, had on Sunday flat-out refused to label the PKK a terrorist organization. Barzani announced that the 100,000 members of the official Kurdish militia would resist an invasion by the Turkish army into northern Iraq.
The clear refusal of the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq to act against PKK separatists -- primarily Turkish Kurds who want independence and who mount attacks on the Turkish army from Iraq -- is the main reason for a rising level of rage among voters in Turkey. Leaders in northern Iraq who don't seem ready to distance themselves from the PKK raids have made themselves targets of Turkish scorn.