"We hope there would not be a unilateral military action across the
border into Iraq," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
At a news conference on Sunday in Singapore, Gates responded to reports
of a Turkish military buildup along the Iraqi border. The Pentagon chief
sounded sympathetic to Turkey's increasing concern over PKK infiltration.
"The Turks have a genuine concern with Kurdish terrorism that takes
place on Turkish soil," Gates said. "So one can understand their frustration
and unhappiness over this. Several hundred Turks lose their lives each year,
and we have been working with the Turks to try to help them get control of
this problem on Turkish soil."
Turkey was said to have amassed 60,000 troops along the Iraqi border.
The Turkish military, saying it was awaiting an invasion order from the
government, has also deployed at least 300 main battle tanks as well as
attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in the southeast.
Turkey has been concerned over the emerging authority of Kurdistan. The
autonomous government has demanded responsibility to sign crude oil and
natural gas contracts.
"Transferring the security operation does not imply that the province is
moving towards secession or independence," Kurdistan Democratic Party
secretary Fadil Merani said.
The U.S. warning, voiced on June 2 by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, came amid an appeal by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. On June
2, Al Maliki said Baghdad would not allow Turkey to convert northern Iraq
into a war zone.
"Our view is we would prefer to continue to work this problem with them
to try and safeguard Turkey and would hope they not take unilateral military
action across the border into Iraq," Gates said.
Officials said the memorandum of understanding with Kurdistan took more than a year to
draft. They said the more than 30-page agreement outlines the relationship
between Kurdish security forces
and the U.S.-led coalition.
The MoU also outlines the contribution of Kurdistan to the current
coalition security operation in Baghdad. In addition, the agreement would
establish a security coordination center in Irbil.
"The memorandum between the province and Americans also establishes a
coordination center in Irbil linked to Baghdad and the coalition forces
operation center," Kurdistan security forces spokesman Jabbar Al Yawar said.
"In practical terms, the memo lifts security protection provided by American
forces for Iraq Army and security services in Kurdistan."
The agreement marked the largest security handover by the U.S.-led
coalition to Iraq in 2007. Kurdistan, deemed the quietest region in Iraq,
has attracted foreign investment and oil projects.
But over the last three months, officials have warned of Iranian
infiltration of Kurdistan. They said Iran has used Al Qaida-aligned
insurgents and the Mahdi Army to intimidate Kurdish villages and
A U.S. official said the transfer means Kurdistan would oversee the Iraq
Army and police, as well as other security forces. Maj. Gen. Kurt Cichowski,
deputy chief of staff for strategy, cited the so-called "peshmerga," now
known as the Kurdish Regional Guards.
Cichowski said the transfer was based on the achievement of four
measures: regional security; Kurdish security capabilities; local governance
capability; and the Kurdish-coalition relationship. He said Kurdistan, with
modern hotels and international companies, has become prosperous in the
post-Saddam Hussein era.
"There is a very important change in status," Cichowski said.