Turkey threatens incursion after Iraq talks fail


  • World
  • Saturday, 27 Oct 2007

By Thomas Grove

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

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

A Turkish soldier patrols in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak October 27, 2007. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened to order an incursion into northern Iraq against Kurdish guerrillas on Saturday after diplomatic talks with Iraq aimed at averting a cross-border raid failed. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Turkish-Iraqi talks collapsed late on Friday after Ankara rejected proposals by Iraqi Defence Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim for tackling Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq as insufficient. The Iraqi delegation left on Saturday. 

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed by fighter jets, helicopter gunships, tanks, and mortars, on the frontier for a possible offensive against about 3,000 rebels using Iraq as a base from which to carry out deadly 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 outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against Turkey in 1984, demanding an ethnic homeland in the southeast. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict. In recent years the PKK has pushed for greater cultural and political rights. 

Erdogan also took a swipe at western countries on Saturday for not cracking down on PKK members, and said calling the group a terrorist organisation, 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. 

RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS 

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 for mines. 

Erdogan also played down comments by Turkey's top general that the army 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. 

General Yasar Buyukanit was quoted by Turkish media on Friday as saying the meeting was very important and NATO's second largest army would hold off until Erdogan returned. 

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. "We are in a sensitive state all the time." 

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." 

In the southeastern city of Sirnak on Saturday about 1,000 people demonstrated against the PKK, which has killed some 40 people in the last month and in its latest major attack also said it took eight soldiers prisoner. Security was tight, with sharpshooters on rooftops and village guard militiamen present. 

"For every 12 martyrs, 12,000 more Turkish martyrs are born," chanted protesters, who came from all over the province. 

The military has recently carried out as many as 24 limited operations into northern Iraq against the PKK but no major land incursion, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Friday. Turkish helicopter gunships and F-16 jets have attacked rebel positions inside Iraq in recent days. 

Analysts question whether a major military assault into northern Iraq would be successful, as past ones have failed to dislodge the PKK, whose members are also in Turkey. 

Ankara 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, run 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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