Iraq Seeks Diplomacy to Stop Iran Shelling

The Iraqi government is using diplomacy to try to stop Iranian forces from shelling Kurdish rebel positions in the north and does not expect an incursion by ground forces, the foreign minister said Wednesday.

Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, made the comment in parliament after some Kurdish legislators demanded a strong statement against Iranian attacks against border camps operated by Iranian Kurdish rebels linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

"The Iraqi government is making necessary contacts with the countries concerned and with international sides," Zebari said. "There were some violations, but we do not think that there is a present threat or possibility of major incursion."

He said there were some "sticky issues and problems," but the border attacks "should be handled through diplomatic means."

Iranian forces fired artillery across the border north of Sulaimaniyah on Sunday and Monday, causing no casualties but forcing some families to move, according to Iraqi Kurdish officials. The Iranians launched a similar barrage April 21.

Rebels seeking self-rule in Kurdish areas of Iran operate from Iraqi territory and have been active recently, mounting attacks against Iranian army and Revolutionary Guard posts.

Iraqi Kurds have suggested the Iranians also fear the degree of autonomy Kurds have gained in post-Saddam Iraq. They theorize Iran also may be using the incursions by Kurdish rebels as an excuse to shoot back and to warn that Iran will not abide similar ambitions in its territory.

The Kurds, who have never had a state of their own in modern history, are spread across a large region including northeast Syria, northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and some areas of the Caucusus mountain countries that were former Soviet republics.

Iran also has a large Arab population along its southern border with Iraq near Basra, and there have been a series of deadly bombings in the region's largest city, Ahvaz, for which Tehran has blamed the United States and Britain.

The attacks, however, are most likely the work of Arab nationalists in the region that formerly was part of Iraq, which is predominantly Arab.

Turkey last month deployed more than 30,000 additional troops in its predominantly Kurdish southeast and along its rugged border with Iraq and Iran to fight the Kurdish guerrillas and stop them from crossing the frontier.

That came after Kurdish rebels reportedly killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded a third in a grenade attack on a military outpost, raising the number of Turkish troops killed this year to at least 17. More than 40 Kurdish guerrillas also have been killed in clashes in the same period.

The Turkish deployment boosted an already large garrison in the region that by some estimates tops 250,000 soldiers.