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Petraeus voices concern over Turkish-Kurdish tension

    BAGHDAD — The top U.S. commander in Iraq warned Thursday that Turkey’s threatened incursion into Kurdish regions in the north of the country could harm the flow of supplies for U.S. troops and damage the Kurdish economy.
    Iraqi Kurdistan, a haven of relative calm, could suddenly become another fault line if Turkey makes good on threats to cross the northern border in pursuit of Turkish Kurdish militants.
    ‘‘We are concerned about that,’’ Gen. David Petraeus told two U.S. reporters in a dusty courtyard in Jadidah, a Shiite town about 25 miles north of Baghdad.
    The Turkish government is preparing to ask parliament to authorize a cross-border operation. Approval would allow the military to launch an operation immediately or wait to see if the United States and its Iraqi allies decide to crack down on the rebels.
    ‘‘A lot our supplies come through Turkey. ... To maintain that commercial exchange is hugely important through the border crossing at Habur Gate. And we hope that will continue,’’ Petraeus said.
    The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey claims the rebels use Iraqi Kurdish territory as a safe haven. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities reject the claim.
    A Turkish incursion could open an delicate new front in Iraq just as U.S. forces were seeing major gains against both Shiite and Sunni extremists in the largely Arab sections of the county south of the Kurdish region.
    Beyond that, about 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq transits Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq. U.S. bases also get water and other supplies by land from Turkish truckers who cross into the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
    Iraq’s Kurdish region also is heavily dependent on trade with Turkey, which provides the region with electricity and oil products. Annual trade at Habur gate, the main border crossing, is more than $10 billion.
    Petraeus said the United States, which lists the PKK as a terrorist organization, understood Ankara’s concerns about the activities of the militant group.
    ‘‘The violence that has been undertaken by the PKK is an enormous challenge. It’s really a strategic issue. So we are again very understanding of the concern they (the Turks) have over these terrorists who are up in the very, very high mountains that straddle the border there,’’ Petraeus said
    Washington is walking a classic Middle Eastern tightrope.
    Turkey is a longtime NATO member and played a huge role in the Cold War, providing the United States with military bases and listening posts on the former Soviet Union’s southern flank.
    At the same time, Iraqi Kurds were Washington’s key ally in the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam and the subsequent struggle to quell sectarian fighting.
    While Iraqi Kurds deny they allow PKK fighters sanctuary on their side of the rugged border, Turkey has made several cross-border incursions since the insurgency began nearly a quarter century ago.
    Further complicating the puzzle, a U.S. House panel on Wednesday approved a bill describing the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians as genocide.
    Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
    On Thursday, Turkey ordered its ambassador in Washington to return to Turkey for consultations, an extreme sign of diplomatic displeasure.
    Petraeus was in Jadidah, a Shiite town that suffered greatly under attacks by Sunni militants and al-Qaida in Iraq, to showcase the decrease in violence after local people joined the police force and U.S. troops cleared the area.
    He strolled the dusty streets like a politician on the campaign trail, hoisting toddlers, handing out a soccer ball and dropping by a small grocery to buy cream-filled cakes.
    The top general played heavily on the Ramadan theme, the holy month when Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke or engage in sex between dawn and sundown.
    In Arabic greetings, he wished everyone a blessed Eid, the three days of feasting that follows the fast, which ends Friday for Sunnis and Saturday for Shiites.
    The people complained to Petraeus that there was no electricity and they had to bring water in by truck. He took careful note and questioned his subordinate officers about projects under way to solve the town’s problems.
    In Baghdad, U.S. military authorities announced a rocket attack on Camp Victory a day earlier had killed two members of the U.S.-led coalition and wounded 40 other people on the sprawling base near Baghdad’s airport. It is headquarters of American forces in Iraq.
    ‘‘We know, precisely where it came from. In fact we found a number of other rockets there. And we do have some very strong leads as well. We believed it was 107mm rockets,’’ Petraeus said.
    A senior officer said the rockets were fired an abandoned school near the base. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
    Most troops stationed at the base are American but there are small contingents from other countries.
    The military said those wounded in Wednesday’s attack included two ‘‘third country nationals,’’ meaning they were not Americans or Iraqis.
    Suicide car bombers, meanwhile, struck a market in the northern city of Kirkuk and a cafe in eastern Baghdad as at least 30 Iraqis were killed or found dead in attacks nationwide.
    The U.S. military said a soldier died in combat Wednesday in eastern Baghdad.

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