Al-Maliki made the pledge today during an international conference in Istanbul intended to focus on Iraq's internal security. But the meeting -- attended by foreign ministers and senior officials from Iraq's neighbors, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and countries of the Group of Eight (G8) -- was overshadowed by the threat that Turkey may launch a cross-border operation into Iraq.
Al-Maliki promised to take "strong measures" against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq, including shutting down offices of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). "Our relations with neighboring Turkey will not be affected by the current crisis," he said. "We will cooperate to defeat terrorism targeting the people of both Iraq and Turkey. We are aware of the threat posed by terrorism to the security and safety of the friendly people of Turkey as well."
Call For Cooperation
Addressing the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for cooperation between Ankara and Baghdad to secure their common frontier to prevent infiltration by PKK rebels.
For his part, al-Maliki urged Iraq's neighbors to do more to prevent "terrorists" from crossing over into Iraq and to do a better job of protecting border areas. "We once again call upon all neighboring countries at this conference to make further efforts to strengthen measures at the borders to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into our territory," he said. "We also urge [them] to cut off the origins and financial sources funding terrorism and to block those who want to undermine the political process."
Al-Maliki also asked for more international support for his government's efforts at economic reconstruction, insisting that civil war in Iraq has been prevented.
Ankara has threatened to launch a cross-border operation into the mountains of northern Iraq, where it says some 3,000 PKK rebels are using bases to carry out attacks against Turkey. Turkey has sent 100,000 troops to its border with Iraq and is backing up those troops with aircraft, tanks, and artillery.
Ankara has acknowledged that al-Maliki is trying to help Turkey against the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. But his embattled government has little authority in autonomous northern Iraq, run by the Kurdistan regional government.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on the sidelines of today's conference that Baghdad is willing to arrest Kurdish rebel leaders, a development that would please Turkey, which wants PKK camps shut and their leaders extradited from northern Iraq.
"The time for words is over, it is time for action," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ankara on November 2.
Staving Off An Incursion
Rice pledged U.S. action to help curb rebels attacks, but she also urged Turkey not to take any action that could destabilize northern Iraq, such as a large-scale military operation. She said no solution will work without the mutual agreement of Turkey, Iraq, and the United States.
"This is going to take persistence, it's going to take commitment," Rice said. "This is a very difficult problem. Rooting out terrorism is hard, we're learning that all around the world, but with the commitment and persistence, I'm certain we'll be able to make progress and we want to do so in a way that improves the prospects for a stable and democratic Iraq on the border with Turkey."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under massive pressure at home to act unilaterally rather than wait for a mediated solution. He is scheduled to discuss the issue with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington next week.
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