Kurdish rebels to declare ceasefire, says Iraqi

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Monday that Kurdish rebels would announce a unilateral ceasefire later in the day amid Turkish threats to launch an incursion against them in northern Iraq.

“The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] has decided to declare a ceasefire from their side tonight,” Talabani told reporters at Sulaimaniyah Airport in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, before flying to Baghdad.

Senior rebel leader Abdul Rahman al-Chadirchi would not confirm the ceasefire but told Agence France-Presse (AFP) the group would make a statement later on Monday.

Talk of a ceasefire comes with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening an imminent incursion into Iraq unless Baghdad clamps down on the PKK and hands over its leaders.

Earlier, Iraqi ministers told Parliament in a special session that no troops could be spared to pursue the rebels, but vowed to cut supplies to the fighters in an attempt to ward off the threat of a Turkish incursion.

Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel Qader al-Obeidi appeared to put the onus on the American military to take action by saying that security in Iraq was the responsibility of the United States-led coalition forces.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s top aide, Sami al-Askari, told AFP that Obeidi had insisted Iraqi troops could not be spared as they were needed for maintaining security in the rest of the country.

He also said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had announced that he was expecting his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, in Baghdad for crisis talks on Tuesday. The timing of the visit was not immediately confirmed by Ankara.

“Zebari also said in Parliament that an Iraqi delegation is expected to visit Turkey soon to continue the dialogue with Ankara,” said al-Askari.

The special session of the Iraqi Parliament was called after 12 Turkish soldiers and 32 rebels were killed in heavy clashes over the border in Turkey on Sunday, further raising tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.

Turkey says the fighting erupted in a mountainous region in the south-eastern province of Hakkari after PKK rebels infiltrated from northern Iraq and attacked a patrol.

The Turkish military said on Monday that eight soldiers were missing after the fighting following rebel claims that they had captured an undisclosed number of troops.

Despite pressure from Washington and much of the international community to hold off on any incursion, Erdogan said his government was ready to use parliamentary authorisation—obtained on Wednesday—to send troops into Iraq.

Hundreds of mostly Kurdish demonstrators holding banners in Arabic, Kurdish and English rallied in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk against the Turkish threat, shouting “No, No Turkey! No, No to aggression!”.

“We came here in support of the Kurdish government’s rejection of the Turkish threats,” said Shakiba Khorshid, a demonstrator in her forties.

In the main Kurdish cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, residents said they feared the economic cost of any Turkish military action and some had even started stockpiling food.

“The continuing Turkish threats may result in closing the borders, which brings about large [economic] damage,” said Bahaa al-Din Muhi al-Din, the 43-year-old owner of a company importing products from Turkey to Sulaimaniyah.

“It is true the borders have not been closed yet, but if it happened it would result in large damages.”

The PKK, meanwhile, threatened to disrupt Iraq’s oil supplies through Turkey if they were attacked by the Turkish military.

“The oil pipeline between Turkey and Iraq inside the Turkish territories will be one of our targets,” rebel leader Murad Qiralian said.

Ankara says about 3 500 PKK fighters are based in northern Iraq where they are able to obtain weapons and are supported by Iraqi Kurdish leaders, a charge the Iraqi Kurdish administration strongly denies.

Faced with rising rebel violence, Turkey says it is running out of options other than military action, with neither the United States nor Iraq doing enough to stamp out the rebel bases.

More than 37 000 people have been killed since 1984 when the PKK took up arms fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south-east.—AFP

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