- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Turkey’s president began the first visit to Iraq by a Turkish head of state in more than 30 years on Monday, seeking to press Iraqi leaders to stop Kurdish rebels from launching cross-border attacks on Turkey.

Abdullah Gul became the latest in a series of foreign dignitaries visiting Iraq as violence has declined dramatically since 2007. Shortly before his arrival, however, a bomb exploded west of the capital, killing eight people and wounding at least 10.

Gul was welcomed at Baghdad International Airport by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, and other officials. He then held talks with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and was expected to meet later with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Turkey has staged several cross border airstrikes against rebel targets and is pressing Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government to stop Kurdish rebels from launching cross-border attacks on Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq.

The rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since 1984. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.

Tensions escalated last year after the rebels killed about two dozen Turkish soldiers in attacks last October.

The concerns place the United States in an awkward position with its NATO partner Turkey due to the U.S. position in Iraq.

Turkey refused to allow American troops to cross the Turkish border into Iraq during the March 2003 invasion, forcing the U.S. to rely on a single route of attack from Kuwait to the south.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan has said he would be receptive to allowing U.S. troops to leave Iraq through Turkish territory if President Barack Obama’s administration asks permission, CNN reported Sunday.

U.S. officials have said they may need to ask permission from Turkey and Jordan to use their territory to move out the force, currently at about 140,000.

Iraq, meanwhile, wants Turkey to allow more water to flow through dams along the Tigris River, one of the main lifelines for this largely desert Arab country.

The last Turkish president to visit Iraq was Fahri Koruturk in 1976.

Monday’s bombing was the second fatal blast in the Abu Ghraib area in less than two weeks. A suicide attacker killed 33 people in Abu Ghraib on March 10.

The explosives were hidden in a pile of garbage at a bus terminal surrounded by shops and houses in the Nasir and Salaam area, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Abu Ghraib, according to local police.

The U.S. military said a second bomb was found nearby but was detonated without incident.

Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said eight people were killed, including two women and a child, and 10 others were wounded in the blast.

A spate of bombings in the Baghdad area has raised fears that insurgents may be escalating operations as the U.S. phases out its combat role in Iraq and prepares to withdraw troops from cities by the end of June.

Also Monday, dozens of Shiite women clad in black rallied in a central Baghdad square to demand the release of detained loved ones who have been in custody for years without charge.

The rally, organized by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s office, comes as the U.S. military has begun complying with a security pact that requires them to release or hand over detainees to Iraqi custody.

Shiite militiamen were blamed in some of Iraq’s worse sectarian violence before al-Sadr ordered a cease-fire in 2007.

A female Sadrist lawmaker, Maha al-Douri, criticized al-Maliki for reaching out to former members of Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath Party but ignoring the plight of the Shiites as part of his reconciliation efforts.

“He should be fair with his people,” al-Douri said. “He opened the door for Baathists but he should also pay attention to his people who elected him.”


Associated Press Writer Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.



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