BAGHDAD – The prime minister of Iraq's northern Kurdish region Friday condemned attacks by Kurdish rebel fighters inside Turkey and said he hopes a weekend summit in Istanbul will reduce the threat of Turkish military strikes inside Iraq.
An independent human rights group, meanwhile, told The Associated Press it is engaged in indirect talks with the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, for release of eight Turkish soldiers captured in a PKK ambush last month.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, issued a statement Friday saying there was "no place in the modern civilized world" for the type of violence carried out by PKK guerrillas.
It was one of the harshest denunciations of the PKK by a Kurdish Iraqi official in recent weeks, and came under increasing diplomatic pressure on Kurdistan's government to distance itself from the PKK.
For the most part, Kurdistan officials have tried to remain neutral, painting the conflict as a matter strictly between the insurgent group, which has waged a decades-long war against Turkey, and Ankara. The PKK has been accused of staging attacks on Turkey from bases in Iraq's mountainous northern border region.
"There can be no excuse whatsoever for these actions which undermine peace and stability in the entire region and which are not in the interest of anyone involved," Barzani said in his statement.
Turkey has long accused the Kurdish regional government of not doing enough to stop PKK guerrillas, and the country's foreign minister expressed his frustration Thursday with Barzani's regime.
"We have doubts about the sincerity of the administration in northern Iraq in the struggle against the terrorist organization," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said. "We want to see solid steps."
Babacan also said his government had taken some economic measures against the PKK and those who support it, without elaborating, and that Turkey was also considering suspending flights to northern Iraq — escalating pressure on the Iraqi Kurdish government to move against the PKK.
Barzani's statement Friday said the Kurdish government wants "peaceful and cooperative relations with Turkey."
"We have many strong ties to Turkey, both economic and cultural, and we hope to see these ties grow in the future. People on both sides of the border have come to benefit from our trade relations," Barzani said.
Also Friday, Hussain Sinjari, the president of Tolerancy International, said his independent human rights group is in indirect talks with the PKK for release of eight Turkish soldiers.
The soldiers were captured Oct. 21 in an ambush by PKK insurgents against the Turkish military in Turkey's mountainous southeast, not far from the country's border with Iraq.
But Sinjari denied rumors that arrangements have been made for the soldiers' imminent freedom, timed to coincide with a meeting between Iraq and neighboring countries in Istanbul Friday and Saturday.
"Tolerancy International is trying to free the captured soldiers. It is still trying," he said in a telephone interview. "But we haven't said that they will be freed today or that they will be handed over to us today. We are still trying and we are still hoping, that these young soldiers can go back to their families and back to their homes in Turkey."
Tolerancy International, based in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, has no ties to the PKK, Sinjari said. The talks have continued through an intermediary with direct contact to the insurgent group, he said, declining to identify the intermediary or discuss the negotiations further.
The talks have been going on for more than a week, according to Tolerancy International's web site. Sinjari said the year-old organization aims to promote a culture of tolerance in the Middle East.
Kurdistan Prime Minister Barzani said Friday that his government was part of the effort to free the captured soldiers.
"We are doing all we can to secure the release of all hostages and to defuse tensions in the area," he said. "We understand Turkey's frustration with the actions of the PKK and we share the grief and sadness over the loss of life that has taken place. We believe that the only solution to this long-running problem is to be found in negotiations and compromise, not further violence."
The PKK, a guerrilla group fighting for Kurdish independence, has waged war on Turkey since 1984 in a campaign that cost an estimated 35,000 lives.
PKK attacks against Turkish positions over the last month have left 47 dead, including 35 soldiers, according to government and media reports.
On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Ankara for the regional conference on Iraq, which is likely to be dominated by efforts to defuse the threat of the spread of fighting between the PKK and Turkey into northern Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, is to meet with President Bush in Washington Monday. The Turkish military has indicated it will wait for Erdogan's return before any large-scale assault on targets inside Iraq.
Kurdistan Prime Minister Barzani said he was optimistic that the Istanbul conference will reduce tensions.
"We would like our friends in the region and elsewhere to know that we are ready at any time, in any place, and with any group, to sit down and find a negotiated solution to the current impasse," he said. "We believe there is an opportunity for a political solution."
Meanwhile, three U.S. airmen were killed while performing combat operations north of Baghdad, the American military announced. All three, assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, died Thursday near Balad Air Base, some 50 miles north of Baghdad.
The brief statement did not give details on how the airmen died, nor whether they died in aircraft or on the ground. No air crashes, emergency landings or shootings were reported Thursday or Friday.