BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed Tuesday to halt the activities of Kurdish separatists staging strikes into Turkey from northern Iraq, marking his government’s strongest declaration yet that it would act to forestall a Turkish invasion.
But even as international diplomatic efforts were under way Tuesday to stop tensions from escalating, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey “cannot wait forever” for Iraq to curb the rebels’ attacks.
He reminded Iraq’s government that Turkey’s parliament had authorized a military incursion against the rebels of the Kurdish Worker’s Party, or PKK, who want to create a separate Kurdish state on Turkish soil.
“Right now we are in a waiting stance, but Iraq should know we can use the mandate for a cross-border operation at any time,” Erdogan said to reporters in London after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
On Sunday, PKK fighters killed 12 Turkish soldiers and said they had captured another eight, whom Turkish authorities have described as missing. A Kurdish Web site posted photographs Tuesday of men it said were the eight soldiers.
In Baghdad, following several hours of crisis talks between Iraq and Turkey’s foreign ministers, al-Maliki issued a statement on Tuesday evening promising to take action against the rebels.
“The PKK is a notorious terror organization and we have decided to shut down its offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil,” al-Maliki said. “We will take all measures to restrict its terror activities that threaten Iraq and threaten Turkey as well.”
But it remains to be seen whether Iraq’s government can effectively crack down on the PKK rebels. Their mountain hideouts are difficult to penetrate and Kurdish regional leaders may be reluctant to hunt down fellow Kurds.
U.S. officials, increasingly concerned that hostilities could upend one of war-riven Iraq’s few areas of stability, have stressed that it is Iraq’s responsibility to contain and disarm the PKK.