U.S. Works to Curb Turkish Attack on Rebels in Iraq

Turkey has gathered forces and heavy weapons on its border with Iraq after an attack Sunday by Kurdish rebels on Turkish troops left eight Turkish soldiers missing and 12 dead. Meantime, there has been a lot of diplomatic traffic.

Turkey's prime minister says he has asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for "speedy steps from the U.S." in cracking down on Kurdish rebels. He says Rice asked "for a few days" in a conversation Sunday night.

The United States, which is urging Turkey to use non-military means to resolve the conflict, opposes any unilateral action by Turkey, fearing it could destabilize the most stable part of Iraq.

Kurdish Rebels Attack Turkish Force at Border

Tensions are high after a bloody day of fighting on the border between Turkey and Iraq.

Turkey's defense minister says 17 Turkish soldiers were killed after Kurdish separatist rebels ambushed a Turkish military convoy, and then clashed with Turkish troops throughout the day.

The battle comes just a few days after Turkey's parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorize cross-border military attacks against Kurdish rebel camps in the mountains of neighboring Iraq.

Turks awoke to grim montages on morning television news shows listing the names of the soldiers killed in what was the bloodiest day of fighting in years between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels, known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

On Sunday, flag-waving Turks organized small street demonstrations around the country, as news of Turkish casualties trickled out from the border town of Daglica, where the fighting raged throughout the day.

From northern Iraq, spokesmen for the PKK claimed their fighters captured eight Turkish soldiers during the battle.

Some Turks lashed out, vandalizing the offices of a Kurdish political party in different cities around the country.

Late Sunday night, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged from crisis talks with his top generals and called for calm.

Reporters asked Erdogan whether he would make good on his threat to send troops into northern Iraq.

"The struggle against terrorism should never be based on emotions," he said. "When the conditions are right, we won't hesitate for a moment to make this decision."

Hugh Pope, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the Turkish government is under huge domestic pressure to invade.

"Their options are limited. They've painted themselves into something of a corner domestically because they've built up the impression that the PKK is an external problem based in Iraq — and that by trying to eliminate them in Iraq, they can solve the PKK problem in Turkey," Pope said.

The PKK's support among Turkish Kurds has dwindled in recent years. Pope said the Kurdish rebels are fighting to regain their relevance by trying to provoke a cross-border military operation.

"The PKK wants to internationalize the Kurdish problem. They want to pull Turkey into the trap. They want to drag Turkey into the morass of Iraq," Pope said.

Turkey once again has demanded that its NATO ally, the United States, and the Iraqi Kurds who rule northern Iraq take immediate measures against the PKK.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Erdogan on Sunday and reportedly asked him to wait a few more days before taking action.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish leaders condemned the PKK's violent tactics, but they added that they would never hand over fellow Kurds to Ankara.

Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, also issued a warning: If there is an invasion, his people will defend themselves against the Turks.

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