Michael Howard / The Guardian – 2007-06-29 23:01:42
SULAYMANIYA (June 30, 2007) — Turkey has prepared a blueprint for the invasion of northern Iraq and will take action if US or Iraqi forces fail to dislodge the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from their mountain strongholds across the border, Turkey’s foreign minister Abdullah Gul has warned.
“The military plans have been worked out in the finest detail. The government knows these plans and agrees with them,” Mr Gul told Turkey’s Radikal newspaper. “If neither the Iraqi government nor the US occupying forces can do this [crush the PKK], we will take our own decision and implement it,” Mr Gul said.
The foreign minister’s uncharacteristically hawkish remarks were seen as a response to pressure from Turkey’s generals, who have deployed some 20,000-30,000 troops along the borders with Iraq, and who are itching to move against the rebels they say are slipping across the border to stage attacks inside Turkey.
Among other things, Turkish military planners have been working on a scheme to establish a buffer zone on Iraqi soil to try to stop the rebels’ movements.
The US and the EU regard the PKK as a terrorist outfit, but Washington is nervous of any military operations by its Nato ally that could destabilise Iraq’s Kurdistan region. There are fears too that any instability in the north could play into the hands of Iran, facing growing problems with its own Kurdish population.
The PKK, which has had a presence in the remote border areas of Iraq since the 1980s, has about 2,000-3,000 guerrillas on Iraqi soil. Their camps are dotted along the densely wooded ravines and in some of the regions’ many caves high up in the limestone peaks. They remain out of reach of Iraq’s Kurdish authorities, who fought unsucessfully alongside Turkey in the 1990s to oust them from their bases.
Authorities in Ankara say the PKK, which declared a unilateral ceasefire last year, are behind recent bombings in the cities of Ankara, Izmir and Diyarbakir, as well as attacks on Turkish security forces in the mostly Kurdish south-east.
So far the Turkish military have confined themselves to shelling across the border and raids by units of special forces. In separate remarks yesterday, Mr Gul said, however, that Turkey was also considering air strikes against the PKK’s bases in the Iraqi Kurdish mountains.
He said that, unlike a cross-border incursion involving troops and tanks, air raids would need no prior parliamentary approval. The Turkish parliament is in recess until national elections on July 22.
Mr Gul did not rule out the prospect of parliament reconvening before the elections to sanction an incursion. In a fresh bout of sabre-rattling on Wednesday, the chief of staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, asked the government in Ankara to set the parameters for an incursion across the border. “Will we go to northern Iraq just to fight PKK rebels, or, for example, what will we do if we come under attack from local Iraqi Kurdish groups?” Gen Buyukanit said.
The general’s remarks rang alarm bells both in Arbil – the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital – and Baghdad, where they were interpreted as a request to also go after Iraq’s Kurdish authorities, whom Turkey accuses of aiding the PKK fighters.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has until now resisted the demands of his chief of staff. The priority, he argues, should be to tackle the thousands of PKK guerrillas who are already inside Turkey. Observers say the moderate Islamist is loth to put further strain on ties with Washington.
US officials in Baghdad have stressed the need for dialogue to resolve the issue. Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have said they are willing to help mediate. Ankara, however, refuses to recognise the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq.
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