U.S. moves against Iran-backed Kurds in northern Iraq

Monday, July 21, 2003

ANKARA The U.S. military has begun operations against Iranian-backed Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq.

Turkish sources said U.S. military units have captured Kurdish insurgents who infiltrated from Iran. They said the operations were carried out amid Turkish complaints that pro-Iranian Kurdish forces were slipping into northern Iraq and destabizing the area.

In one operation, the sources said, a U.S. military force captured an Islamic Kurdish commander loyal to Iran. The sources said Ali Babeer, wanted by the United States, was arrested in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, was flown away by helicopter and detained in Baghdad.

Babeer was identified as a commander of the Islamic Group backed by Iran, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said Babeer and three members of the group's politburo were captured and flown out of the area. His group is believed to have up to 5,000 followers.

Babeer is believed linked to Ansar Islam, the Al Qaida-linked group that infiltrated northern Iraq from Iran, the sources said. They said Ansar Islam has returned to northern Iraq after they fled to Iran during the U.S.-led war.

The sources said the pro-Iranian Kurds have tried to use Suleimaniyah as their base. They said the U.S. military had refrained from such operations in May and June in an effort to maintain their alliance with other Kurdish elements in northern Iraq.

The PKK has also tried to expand its activities in northern Iraq. "We have received an information claiming that the terrorist organization PKK/Kadek had founded a party in Kirkuk, Iraq," opposition Republican People's Party leader Deniz Baykal said.

The U.S. offensive comes as Washington has formally relayed a request for Turkey to contribute forces for the stabilization of Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said the U.S. request demonstrated the strategic relations between Ankara and Washington.

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