- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

Kurds nervous

Turkey would destabilize northern Iraq if Turkish troops cross the border in pursuit of ethnic Kurdish rebels who strike Turkish targets from inside Iraq, an official from Iraq’s Kurdish regional government said yesterday.

“The Kurdish area is the safest and most stable part of Iraq,” Qubad Talabani told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “Our Turkish brothers are trying to open a second front. We are very worried about the potentially destabilizing effect of an incursion from the north.”

Turkey last week began moving hundreds of tanks and military vehicles to the Turkish side of the border with Iraq. Last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to order incursions into northern Iraq after rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) crossed into Turkey and killed 15 soldiers.

Mr. Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, said he suspected that domestic political pressures are partially behind the demands from Turkish leaders for Iraq’s Kurdish government to drive out the PKK.

“The Turkish government is seen as having been too soft on the PKK,” Mr. Talabani said.

The Kurdish authority has closed down some PKK front groups, and the Iraqi national government in Baghdad has taken similar measures, he added.

Mr. Talabani said the regional authority opposes a military solution to the presence of the PKK in the area it administers. He said the rebels are divided and many would lay down their arms if Turkey offered them amnesty. The PKK, which the United States and the European Union list as a terrorist organization, has been fighting for a separate Kurdish homeland since 1984.

Mr. Talabani rejected Turkish arguments that the United States applied a double standard on Turkey by opposing Turkish raids into Iraq, while supporting the Israeli war against Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

“The PKK is not Hezbollah. Turkey is not Israel, and Iraq is not Lebanon,” he said.

On issues affecting Iraq overall, Mr. Talabani said American troops are needed in his country until the Iraqi army is capable of taking over the fight against the insurgency and imposing peace between rival Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

“There would be a lot of panic” if the United States set a date for withdrawing troops, he said, adding that “the terrorists would wait until the deadline passed” and Iraq would descend into a full-fledged civil war with Sunnis against Shi’ites and “factions within factions.”

“The government would collapse,” he predicted. “We will need the U.S. in Iraq for many years to come.”

Unlike other areas of Iraq, the Kurdish region is both “pro-Western and pro-American,” Mr. Talabani said. One reason his region is safer and more stable than the rest of Iraq is that Kurds always held their ethnic identity above their religious affiliation.

Reflecting on the setbacks in Iraq, he said, “The first mistake was made by Iraqis.”

Mr. Talabani said retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, quickly offered to turn over power to a government led by Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent opposition leader at the time. However, the Iraqis could not agree upon a new government, and L. Paul Bremer soon replaced Gen. Garner and delayed the transfer of sovereignty, Mr. Talabani said.

New passports

The State Department yesterday issued the first state-of-the-art passports with computer chips containing a digital photograph of the passport holder, along with biographical data. The first ones were processed at the Colorado Passport Agency.

The department said the new documents are secure against identity theft through a variety of safeguards, including technology that creates a computerized “key” to unlock the so-called “e-passport.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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