U.S. proposes security role for Kurds in northern Iraq

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

ANKARA The United States has proposed a limited security role for Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq.

Western diplomatic sources said the U.S. Defense Department has proposed the integration of several thousand members of the Kurdish Workers Party in Iraqi and Kurdish militias in northern Iraq. The sources said the United States has asserted that such an offer would hasten the demise of the PKK organization in northern Iraq.

Turkish security sources said about 30 percent of the 5,000 PKK fighters in Iraq have crossed the northern border into Turkey. The PKK fighters were said to have entered southeastern Turkey with their commanders in an effort to resume the insurgency against Ankara, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The U.S. assessment is that most or all of the PKK operatives who want to resume the war against Turkey have already left Iraq," a Western diplomat said. "That leaves more than 3,000 PKK fighters who are ready to call it quits if they are offered something feasible."

The diplomat said the U.S. preference was for the PKK members to join the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or the border guards. Washington has proposed that the PKK fighters serve in units with other Kurds to ensure that former insurgents don't comprise the majority.

The sources said at least 2,000 of the PKK fighters came from Syria and prefer to either return to that country or stay in Iraq. The group that returned to Turkey has been loyal to Osman Ocalan, who took over the PKK from his brother, Abdullah, captured by Ankara in 1999.

Turkey has pressed the United States to eliminate the PKK presence in northern Iraq before Washington withdraws its military, a move expected in 2005. The Kurdish administration in northern Iraq has refused to allow PKK insurgents to remain in the area and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has offered them to join the militia.

The Ankara-based Turkish Daily News said the United States has also suggested that PKK fighters serve in Iraqi units along the border with Iran. But the newspaper said Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq have objected out of concern that this would create tension with Teheran.

The future of the PKK has been a sore point in relations between Ankara and Washington. The Bush administration has linked an $8.5 billion loan guarantee to a pledge that Turkey will not launch an unilateral action in northern Iraq.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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