Iraq's President Jalal Talabani on Sunday refused to hand over top leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to Turkey, only days after Turkey's prime minister said the country's demands would be met if Iraq took action to shut down PKK camps in the country's mountainous north and extradites leaders of the terrorist group.
"The handing over of PKK leaders to Turkey is a dream that will never be realized," Talabani, a Kurd, told a news conference in the northern province of Arbil, where he held an urgent meeting with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to discuss rising tension between Iraq and Turkey after the PKK killed 12 Turkish soldiers in an ambush in the early morning on Sunday near the Iraqi border.
The attack, one of the worst in more than a decade by the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by a large majority of the international community, came four days after the Turkish Parliament backed a motion allowing troops to enter northern Iraq to fight PKK terrorists hiding there. "The PKK's leaders are in Kurdistan's rugged mountains. The Turkish military with its might could not annihilate them or arrest them, so how could we arrest them and hand them to Turkey?" Talabani questioned. "Handing over Kurdish leaders is a dream that will not come true."
The Iraqi leader also urged the PKK to stop its attacks, amid fears a Turkish incursion would destabilize the relatively peaceful, autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
"We have appealed to the PKK to desist fighting and to transform themselves from military organizations into civilian and political ones," Talabani said. "But if they [the PKK] insist on the continuation of fighting, they should leave Kurdistan, Iraq, and not create problems here."
Alluding to Sunday's clashes, he said: "I feel sorry about today's incident. I regret the shedding of blood, whether it is Turkish or Kurdish," adding that he will meet on Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. He did not say where the meeting would take place.
Barzani, the head of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, who also addressed the conference along with Talabani, warned that the regional administration will defend itself against any attack by neighboring countries.
"We are not going to be caught up in the PKK and Turkish war, but if the Kurdistan region is targeted, then we are going to defend our citizens," Barzani said, referring to the Turkish Parliament's authorization on Wednesday of an incursion into northern Iraq to attack PKK camps.
Earlier in the day in Baghdad, Iraqi lawmakers condemned Turkey's intention to launch an incursion into Iraq's northern Kurdish region in order to bring down the PKK. A parliamentary motion condemning the Turkish threat was approved by 183 lawmakers of the 275-member national assembly on Sunday.
Meanwhile, an estimated 15,000 Kurds packed the streets of the border city of Zakho in northern Iraq on Sunday to protest the Turkish threat and to warn they would defend their territory.
The protesters in Zakho waved the sunburst flag of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and unfurled banners reading "No, no to the Turkish military incursion. Yes, yes to peace and security."
PKK terrorists operating from bases in the mountains of northern Iraq periodically cross the border to stage attacks in their war to win autonomy for Turkey's predominantly Kurdish Southeast.
Ankara Today's Zaman with wires