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Turkey: US arms end up in Kurdish hands

Associated Press | July 12, 2007

WASHINGTON - Turkey's ambassador to Washington said Wednesday that U.S. weapons have been turning up in the hands of Kurdish guerrillas staging attacks in Turkey.

Nabi Sensoy said that the United States is not doing enough to influence Kurdish politicians in key positions in the Iraqi government to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which has been fighting for an independent Kurdistan within Turkey for decades. He said that Turkey has been pressing the United States to ensure that U.S. weapons supplied to Kurdish forces within the Iraqi army are not funneled to the PKK.

He did not suggest that the U.S. has been supplying the PKK directly. But he accused Kurdish members of the Iraqi government of allowing the group to operate in northern Iraq and to stage cross-border attacks into Turkey.

The comments come as the Turkish officials have indicated that they are considering military operations against the PKK in Iraq, a move that the United States fears would cause further instability. While tensions between Ankara and Washington have increased, Turkey remains a key U.S. ally, providing vital support to U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq through Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, one of the most important U.S. military assets in the region.

U.S. officials have said they are working closely with Turkey to combat the PKK but that their focus in Iraq is in combatting insurgents opposing U.S. forces. The United States considers the PKK a terrorist group and has taken steps to cut off its international financing. But U.S. officials can point to few examples of success against the PKK in Iraq.

Told of Sensoy's comments, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged that the U.S. military is not taking military action to try to stop the rebel activities.

"The United States government certainly recognizes the PKK threat that exists for the Turkish government and the Turkish people," Whitman told reporters at the Pentagon.

He repeated U.S. objections to possible Turkish incursions into Iraq. "We've also made it clear that any sort of military action into Iraq would be very unhelpful," he said.

Sensoy said that Turkey understands that because of the challenges already facing the U.S. military in Iraq, Washington may not be able to divert forces to Northern Iraq. But Ankara believes that the United States has the power to force action by Kurdish officials in Iraq.

"To suggest that the United States does not have the leverage over the Kurds in the North to cut off support to a terrorist organization it is fighting all over the world is difficult to understand," the ambassador said.

The perception in Turkey that the United States has ignored Turkish concerns about the PKK's operations in Iraq has increased pressure on the Turkish government to order military operations against the PKK in Iraq. The PKK has escalated attacks this year, killing at least 67 soldiers so far. More than 110 rebels were killed in the same period.

The PKK has been smuggling sophisticated explosive devices over the border from Iraq for attacks in Turkey, the ambassador said.

"I think the Turkish people have shown enough patience," Sensoy told reporters at a press breakfast. "We have to show the public some concrete results."

Sensoy would not comment on a recent assertion by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari that Turkey had massed 140,000 soldiers along the border. He said that troop levels in the region were often increased during the spring and summer in response to increased activity by the PKK.

Turkey has been battling the PKK since 1984 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.


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