BAGHDAD – Iraq will set up more checkpoints along its northern frontier to keep out supplies for Kurdish rebels, who have been striking the Turkish military in raids across the border, the Iraqi foreign minister said Wednesday.
Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq would set up the checkpoints along with the border with heavily Kurdish southeastern Turkey to stop fuel, food and other supplies from reaching the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has killed dozens of people inside Turkey over the past month. He said they would also take other unspecified measures against the rebels.
Zebari, who is Kurdish, told reporters that Iraq would also restrict the movement of PKK fighters in order to "prevent them from reaching the populated towns and areas" inside Turkey.
The Iraqi official's comments came after he discussed the border issue with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Baghdad.
Turkish helicopters have begun pounding rebel hideouts in Turkey with rockets, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his nation would exhaust all diplomatic options before ordering a cross-border offensive.
Zebari warned that a Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq would have "serious consequences for the entire region and could undermine its stability."
He said Iraq was ready "to cooperate actively with the Turkish government to find practical measures" to prevent the attacks staged by Kurdish rebels from Iraqi territory.
Mottaki blamed outside forces for what he called "terrorist operations" both inside Turkey and in other countries in the region, an apparent swipe at the United States.
A Kurdish insurgent group affiliated with the PKK is also fighting for autonomy inside Iran.
Zebari pleaded with participants in a regional conference, planned for Saturday in Istanbul, to remain focused on the issue of Iraq's stability and security, rather than Turkey's threat of sending its military into suspected PKK strongholds in northern Iraq.
"This meeting is very important and should not be hijacked by the current tension and crisis over the PKK terrorist activities in Turkey," he said. "We want this meeting to focus on Iraq's stability and security."
At a May conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Iraq's neighbors promised to stop foreign militants from joining Iraq's insurgency — a pledge that the United States says has not been met.
Turkey is also considering economic sanctions that could wreck the economy of Iraq's Kurdistan region, the most peaceful part of the country.
Kurdistan's regional government has significant autonomy and provides virtually all its own security in the three-province region.
Zebari has said the Iraqi government plans to present the Istanbul conference with recommendations in three key areas — security, refugees and energy.
The conference comes as the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians have seen a drop in attacks and casualties.
But in a grim reminder of continuing violence, the Iraqi military spokesman for Baghdad said that Iraqi forces have discovered 16 corpses in the basement shelter of a building in a Sunni-dominated area of Baghdad.
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told The Associated Press that the remains, discovered in the Fadhl area of downtown Baghdad on Monday, were recovered and taken to the morgue on Tuesday.
Al-Moussawi blamed the killings on militants with al-Qaida in Iraq, who controlled the neighborhood until they were driven out about a month ago. The discovery was based on a tip, he said.
U.S. forces hunting for a senior al-Qaida militant leader accused in assassinations and car bomb attacks killed three suspected militants after surrounding a building in the northern city of Kirkuk, the military said.
The clash came around the same time as a failed assassination attempt on an investigative judge in the violence-plagued northern city. Police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said gunmen in a vehicle attacked Judge Zaher al-Bayati around 8:30 a.m. in the city's southern al-Wasiti neighborhood. Two bodyguards were killed, Qadir said, but al-Bayati, a Turkoman, was unharmed.
About 20 minutes later, there was a drive-by shooting attack on an intelligence officer as he was driving with his wife and daughter, the police chief said. The intelligence officer escaped injury, but his wife and 5-year-old daughter were both hurt.
Tensions are rising in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, in advance of a proposed referendum on whether the oil-rich city will join the self-governing Kurdish region.
The military also announced that U.S. and Iraqi commandos had detained a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq leader and three other militants in Khadra, north of Baghdad, in a raid that left one U.S. soldier lightly wounded.
The main suspect was accused of leading four insurgent groups believed to be involved in attacks on Iraqi security forces and local civilians as well as an arson attack against Iraq's main pharmaceutical storage facility, according to the statement.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne said that his country's troops would hand over security in the southeastern province of Basra to Iraqi forces in mid-December.
Browne said the level of violence in the oil-rich province of was not acceptable but had reached a point where only the Iraqis could improve the situation.
The announcement of the drawdown came as Poland's incoming prime minister, Donald Tusk, suggested his country's troops will end their mission in Iraq next year, according to an interview published in a Polish newspaper.