- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and Iraq agreed to try to root out a Kurdish rebel group from northern Iraq, but Iraq’s prime minister said he could not sign an agreement implementing the promise until it was put to his parliament.

“We have reached an agreement to spend all efforts to end the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Iraq,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. Erdogan said the leaders signed a separate memorandum of understanding and agreed to speed up work to finalize a counterterrorism agreement to combat the Kurdish guerrillas who have escalated their attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

“Within a short period of time, a large delegation under the leadership of the [Iraqi] interior minister will visit. Security officials will come together and seal an agreement,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Turkey has threatened to stage an incursion into northern Iraq unless Iraq or the United States cracked down on the separatist rebel group. The envisaged counterterrorism agreement is aimed at forcing Iraq to officially commit itself to fighting the rebels.

Iraq’s cooperation could avert a Turkish incursion, which is opposed by Washington. The United States calls the PKK a terrorist group, but U.S. forces are consumed by chaos elsewhere in Iraq and want to preserve the Kurdish-dominated north as a rare spot of relative stability.

Turkish officials said they knew that Mr. al-Maliki has little clout in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq and that he had also been weakened both by Iraq’s dire security situation and by new turmoil in his crumbling government in Baghdad.

“Whether we are satisfied or not will depend on the implementation, but I can say we have seen a green light” from the Iraqi side, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

In the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region played down differences with Ankara yesterday.

He said at a press conference that Turkish troops were positioned in the Iraqi Kurdish enclave with local consent and lent his support to Mr. al-Maliki’s visit to Ankara.

“There is a Turkish presence in the province, and this is in coordination with the provincial government,” he said.

“The military buildup is not a problem between the regional government and Turkey, but rather between Turkey and Iraq, which is a sovereign state,” Mr. Barzani added.

Mr. al-Maliki’s already shaky government has been hit with a series of Cabinet desertions by both Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs, although the Kurdish portion of his coalition has held fast.

While reaching agreement on Kurdish rebels, Mr. al-Maliki refused to sign the counterterrorism agreement requested by the Turkish authorities, saying it was not in his power to commit Baghdad to the agreement without first putting it before parliament and his Cabinet, an Iraqi government official said.

The Turkish and Iraqi interior ministries had been negotiating such a pact, but the official said Mr. al-Maliki was caught off-guard when asked to sign an agreement yesterday.

Al-Maliki offered to sign a memorandum instead, saying that fell within his powers,” the Iraqi official said.

In Iraq, meanwhile, four more U.S. soldiers were killed in roadside bombings in the Baghdad area, including three in a single strike, the military said yesterday, raising to at least 19 the number of American troop deaths in the first week of August.

A British soldier also died from injuries sustained in a gunbattle Monday in the southern city of Basra, the British Ministry of Defense said.

Iraqi authorities intensified checkpoints and announced plans for a vehicle ban beginning tonight and lasting through Saturday morning in Baghdad as they girded for a major Shi’ite pilgrimage to commemorate the eighth-century death of an important Shi’ite saint.

Sunni insurgents often target such gatherings and have killed hundreds of pilgrims since the festival became legal after the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein by U.S. forces in 2003.

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