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Iraq: Turks' raids on Kurds fuel war fears
by Staff Writers
Suleimaniyah, Iraq (UPI) Oct 18, 2011

Turkey shells northern Iraq: Kurdish rebels
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Oct 18, 2011 - Turkey was shelling northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region on Tuesday, a Kurdish rebel spokesman said, in the first report of Turkish bombardment in the area in more than two weeks.

The shelling began Monday night "against Khowakirk and Zab in northeast Dohuk" province, said Dozdar Hammo, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which operates out of bases in Kurdistan.

It was still ongoing early Tuesday afternoon, he said, adding that there were no reports of casualties.

The shelling was the first report of Turkish bombardment in Kurdistan since September 29, when the PKK said Turkish warplanes carried out strikes in the region.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, said during a visit to Ankara this month that the presence of Kurdish rebels in the north was "unacceptable," but stopped short of offering a solution.

Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly voted on October 5 to extend the government's mandate to order military strikes against Kurdish rebels in neighbouring Iraq for one more year.

Since 2007, Turkey has renewed the motion giving a green light for the Turkish military to conduct cross-border raids to hit PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. The current authorisation was to expire on October 17.

The Turkish military has repeatedly attacked suspected PKK targets since August 17.

The PKK took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

Fighting between Turkey's Kurdish separatists and the Ankara government is escalating with Turkish air raids against rebel havens in Iraq's Kurdish enclave, raising fears a new civil war in Turkey is looming in a region already convulsed by turmoil.

But there is a danger, too, that what has long been a largely internal battle in Turkey could be swept up into wider, more complex regional conflicts in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Some 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey since the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the initials PKK, launched its armed struggle for an autonomous Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey.

The fighting died down a few years ago amid efforts to find a political settlement but it flared again in recent months and now seems close to exploding into a full-blown shooting war.

Pro-government newspapers in Turkey openly discuss a massive military assault to wipe out the PKK in the southeast and in the Iraqi Kurds' semiautonomous enclave in northeastern Iraq.

This time, the Americans may find themselves drawn into the conflict as Turkey launches air raids on PKK sanctuaries in Iraq and is expected to mount a major ground offensive, as it has in the past, if the Kurds keep up attacks on Turkish forces.

The Islamist government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could well be supported by U.S. Predator drones that are expected to be deployed on Turkish soil as the Americans withdraw from Iraq.

Indeed, Ankara's growing campaign against the PKK is becoming interlocked with a worsening revolution in Syria, Turkey's threat to use military force to stop Greek Cypriots and Israel from exploiting offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean and deteriorating relations between Iran and the United States.

As U.S. troops move toward completing their withdrawal from Iraq by Dec. 31, Washington is having to increasingly depend on Turkey, which has the second largest military within NATO, to help support Iraq, moderate with Iran and pressure the beleaguered regime in strife-torn Syria.

Erdogan last week launched weeklong military maneuvers on Turkey's border with Syria, as it did in 1988 when the two neighbors almost went to war over Damascus' backing for the separatists of the PKK.

Erdogan, who wants to make Turkey the paramount power in the region, has allowed the Syrian National Council, the umbrella for the myriad opposition groups that have been seeking the downfall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus since mid-March, to operate out of Istanbul.

Syria's intelligence services, a key pillar of the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, have threatened to resume arms deliveries to the PKK unless Erdogan minds his own business.

Turkish authorities uncovered an arms cache in the southern Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Oct. 3 that may have originated in Syria.

Damascus accuses the Turks of arming the Free Syrian Army and the Syria Free Officers Movement, two groups formed by soldiers who defected from the Syrian military to join the uprising in which the United Nations says more than 3,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed.

These two groups, along with other dissident factions, operate from refugee camps on Turkey's border with Syria.

The regional upheaval is further complicated by Iran stepping up attacks on PJAK, the PKK's Iranian wing, which also has bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

With the U.S. military pullout from Iraq, Washington's need for Erdogan's support will almost certainly intensify. The U.S. State Department has already branded the PKK a terrorist organization.

"I think Turkey has America's complete support regarding the PKK," says Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University.

"The U.S. is so dependent on Turkish backing when it comes to Syria and Iraq, I don't think they'll think twice about writing off the PKK."

The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank, cites regional analysts as saying Iran "is using PJAK and the PKK to militarize the border regions in case of an American attack."

That prospect may have gained traction from U.S. allegations that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington.

Tehran vehemently denies that and some analysts suspect the incident was fabricated by U.S. authorities to discredit Iran and pave the way for possible military action.

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Algerian rights group concerned about detainees in Iraq
Algiers (AFP) Oct 18, 2011 - Fourteen Algerians jailed in Iraq for at least seven years after summary trials are pleading for their release, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) announced Tuesday.

"Fourteen Algerians arrested in 2003 and 2004 in Iraq are being held in a prison in Baghdad," LADDH Secretary General Moumene Khelil told AFP by telephone. "We were contacted by a detainee in this prison and we don't have other details."

"There could be other Algerian nationals in other Iraqi prisons, but we don't know for now," he added.

LADDH President Mostepha Bouchachi said that he had spoken to the prisoner, who he did not name. The detainee told him that he and his comrades "did not commit acts of violence" during their stay in Iraq, but they were arrested in Baghdad and accused of "belonging to terrorist groups."

They were tried by an ad hoc special court with no legal means of defence and sentenced for between 10 and 15 years in prison, the prisoner told Bouchachi.

Bouchachi cited Al-Qaeda and other movements that were active in Iraq to fight against the invasion by US-led foreign troops in 2003 in their successful bid to oust longtime strongman Saddam Hussein.

But according to Bouchachi, the detainees believe they were victims of injustice and they are asking "to be pardoned, though innocent, like other Iraqi detainees sentenced for the same motives have been."

Iraqi authorities are expected to organise a wave of pardons to mark the holy Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha early in November.

"We have made contact with Iraqi diplomats here. It is too soon to judge what their capacity to respond will be," Khelil said.

The LADDH has also put the case to Algerian authorities and asked the international Red Cross to visit the Baghdad prison to find out about detention conditions.

Iranian exiles urge delay of Iraqi Camp Ashraf closure
Brussels (AFP) Oct 18, 2011 - Iranian dissidents, backed by Belgian, European and US politicians, Tuesday urged the international community to press Iraq to postpone the closure of a camp housing thousands of outlawed Iranians.

"The US remains morally responsible for the people of Ashraf," said former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, referring to Camp Ashraf, home for the past 30 years to 3,400 Iranian dissidents, now facing expulsion by year's end.

"We have 74 days left until the deadline," he told a gathering of hundreds in Brussels. "We have 74 days left until all the American troops are withdrawn and there is no protection left."

The camp, which has become a mounting international problem, has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security left 34 dead and scores injured, triggering sharp condemnation. Iraq wants its closure by December 31.

It was set up when Iraq and Iran were at war in the 1980s by the then Iranian People's Mujahedeen and later came under US control until January 2009, when US forces transferred security for the camp to Iraq.

The camp's residents are being assessed individually by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees after applying for refugee status, to allow them to resettle elsewhere, but fears are that the process cannot be completed within the time-frame set by Baghdad.

Maryam Rajavi, who heads the National Council of Resistance of Iran, urged quick international action "to cancel the suppressive deadline set by the Iraqi government."

Last month, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appointed an advisor to help resolve the issue and the head of a European parliament group on Iraq, MEP Struan Stevenson, said "Ambassador De Ruyt should visit Ashraf as soon as possible."


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US-Iraq talks hit snag over immunity for troops
Washington (AFP) Oct 17, 2011
The question of legal immunity for US troops remains a "sticking point" between the United States and Iraq in talks over a possible US military presence beyond a year-end deadline, a defense official said Monday. The Pentagon insisted negotiations were still underway and denied media reports that they had collapsed over the dispute about shielding American soldiers from Iraqi prosecution. ... read more

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