Turkey threatens incursion after Iraq talks fail

By Thomas Grove

SIRNAK, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Saturday to order an incursion into northern Iraq against Kurdish guerrillas after the failure of talks with Iraq aimed at averting a cross-border raid. 

"The moment an operation is needed, we will take that step," Erdogan told a large flag-waving crowd in Izmit. "We don't need to ask anyone's permission." 

A Turkish tank rolls toward the Habur border gate, in a routine operation to strengthen security in Sirnak province October 27, 2007. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Saturday to order an incursion into northern Iraq against Kurdish guerrillas after failure of talks with Iraq aimed at averting a cross-border raid. (REUTERS/Zeynep Erdim)

The talks collapsed late on Friday after Ankara rejected proposals by Iraqi Defence Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim for tackling guerrillas based in northern Iraq as insufficient and because they would not yield results quickly enough. 

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed by fighter jets, helicopter gunships, tanks, and mortars, on the border for a possible offensive against about 3,000 rebels using Iraq as a base from which to carry out attacks in Turkey. 

The United States, which was also represented at the talks, opposes a major incursion, fearing it could destabilise the relatively peaceful north of Iraq and the wider region. 

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched its separatist campaign in 1984, since when more than 30,000 people have died. 

Erdogan took a swipe at western countries for not cracking down on the PKK and said calling it a terrorist group, as the United States and European Union do, was not enough. 

"We want action, and if you can't show action, you fail the sincerity test," he said. "Those who overlook terrorism are in cooperation with terrorism," he told a conference earlier. 

Army sources told Reuters on Saturday that military planes were making reconnaissance flights along the mountainous border to photograph PKK camps in northern Iraq. Helicopters were patrolling villages and soldiers sweeping roads for mines. 


Erdogan played down comments by Turkey's armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit that the Turkish army, NATO's second largest, was waiting for him to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on Nov. 5 before a major incursion. 

U.S.-Turkish ties have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks. 

Senior Turkish diplomats say Erdogan has given Washington and Baghdad a limited time to show concrete results or steps to be taken against the PKK. The meeting in Washington will be the last chance, they told Reuters. 

Any major offensive, expected to involve ground and air forces, would first have to be approved by the government. 

"I don't know what will happen before the American trip," Erdogan said late on Friday. 

On Saturday Buyukanit, in a speech to mark Monday's Republic Day, said the army would fight until it had destroyed the PKK. 

"We feel the pain of our martyred heroes deeply. But that pain increases our determination to fight," the text of his speech read. "Those who make us suffer cannot even imagine the suffering we will inflict on them; on this we are determined." 

Ankara has threatened sanctions against Iraq and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan raised the possibility again on Saturday. He said the government would use political, diplomatic, economic, cultural and military "instruments" to fight the PKK. 

"Which of these instruments will be used, to what extent and when is being determined in a general strategy," he told reporters as he left for an official visit to Iran. 

In the southeastern city of Sirnak, about 1,000 people demonstrated against the PKK, which has killed some 40 people in the last month and, after its latest major attack, said it took eight soldiers prisoner. 

"For every 12 martyrs, 12,000 more Turkish martyrs are born," chanted protesters, who came from all over the province that has Iraq as its neighbour. 

The military has carried out as many as 24 limited operations into northern Iraq against the PKK, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Friday. Helicopter gunships and F-16 jets have attacked rebel positions inside Iraq in recent days. 

Turkey had asked Iraq to hand over PKK leaders but the central government has little control over semi-autonomous northern Iraq, run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). 

The KRG, led by Masoud Barzani, says it has no control over the PKK and Barzani has vowed to fight any Turkish incursion. 

(Additional reporting by Evren Mesci in Ankara and Emma Ross-Thomas in Istanbul) 

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