BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq launched a diplomatic offensive on Tuesday aimed at fending off increasingly vocal Turkish threats to send troops into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced he would send a high-level delegation to Turkey for “urgent negotiations” after an emergency meeting of his cabinet to discuss the matter.
While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the Maliki government and Iraqi Kurds to take a stand against Kurdish rebels on their territory or face the consequences, Baghdad responded with a series of conciliatory statements.
Ankara is seeking parliamentary approval for military action in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region against bases of rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“The Iraqi government renews its commitment to stop the terrorist activities of the PKK against neighbouring Turkey,” a statement from Maliki, the third from his office since Monday night, said after the cabinet meeting.
An earlier communique said he “will not accept military solutions as a way of dealing (with issues) between the two countries even though we realise and understand the worries of our Turkish friends.”
In Ankara, Erdogan’s tone was more strident.
“The central government in Iraq and the regional government in northern Iraq must put a thick wall between themselves and the terrorist organisation,” Erdogan said, referring to the PKK.
“Those who are unable to distance themselves from terrorism cannot avoid being adversely affected by the struggle against terrorism,” Erdogan told the parliamentary group of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Maliki stressed the importance of implementing an agreement between the Iraqi and Turkish governments, signed last month, to combat the PKK.
While both agreed to cooperate in the fight against some 3,500 PKK rebels based in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, they failed to agree on a clause allowing Turkish troops to engage in “hot pursuit” — as they did regularly in the 1990s — against rebels fleeing into Iraq.
“The Iraqi government will try by all means to defuse the crisis with its neighbour Turkey and is concerned to maintain security and stability,” a Maliki statement said.
“We are ready to hold emergency talks with senior (Turkish) officials to solve all remaining problems and give assurances that will help regulate relations between the two neighbouring states,” it added.
Tuesday’s developments coincided with a one-day visit to Ankara by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who will discuss “all aspects of bilateral ties” with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, a Turkish diplomat said.
The Turkish government on Monday formally submitted a motion to parliament seeking a one-year authorisation for a military operation in northern Iraq.
The government plans to put the motion to a vote on Wednesday and could opt for a closed-door debate, said Sadullah Ergin, the AKP’s parliamentary group chairman.
At the weekend, Turkish troops shelled several villages in northern Iraq, causing damage but no casualties.
The Muslim Scholars’ Association, one of Iraq’s main Sunni clerics’ organisations, called for restraint.
“While we understand the need for Turkish national security, we ask that Turkish politicians, known to be far-sighted and not given to hasty decisions, consider other options… and spare the region these calamities,” it said in a statement.
“Turkish politicians can find alternatives… without getting involved in a war that Iraqis would only understand as a new invasion of their country to be added to the declared US invasion and an undeclared Iranian one,” it said.