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 Turkey toughens line against Iraqi Kurds with threat of incursion

 Source : AFP
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Turkey toughens line against Iraqi Kurds with threat of incursion  15.4.2007 


April 15, 2007

ANKARA, -- Turkish threats of a military incursion into Kurdistan (northern Iraq) to pursue Kurdish rebels represent a hardening line in Ankara amid exasperation with US inaction against the militants and what it sees as growing defiance of Kurdish leaders in control of the Kurdistan region, analysts say.

Army chief Yasar Buyukanit on Thursday became the first such high-ranking military official to publicly argue for a cross-border operation and ask for government permission to send troops to crack down on bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

"If you ask me whether a cross-border operation is needed, yes it is needed. It would be useful," Buyukanit told a press conference here.

Indignation is Turkey is growing over Iraqi and US failure to fulfill pledges to eradicate the PKK and recent Iraqi Kurdish threats, said Serhat Erkman, an expert on the Middle East at the Ankara-based think-tank ASAM.

"As a result, Turkish leaders have begun to stress more openly the need to implement economic, political and 'other' measures, besides diplomacy, to resolve the issue," he said.

Turkey charges that several thousand PKK rebels have found refuge in northern Iraq where they enjoy unrestricted movement and obtain weapons and explosives for attacks on Turkish targets in their 22-year struggle for self-rule in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

Ten Turkish soldiers and 29 rebels were killed this month -- in the heaviest fighting between the PKK and the army in a long time -- as the arrival of spring makes the mountainous crossing between Iraq and Turkey more accessible to the rebels.

Ankara accuses Iraqi Kurds of tolerating and even supporting the rebels.

Tensions between the two sides rose this week after Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, threatened to fan unrest in Turkey's Kurdish- populated southeast if Ankara continues to oppose Kurdish claims on the oil-rich ethnically volatile Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Turkey claims that thousands of Kurds have moved into the Kurdish city of Kirkuk to change its demography ahead of a referendum on Kirkuk's future status, scheduled for the end of the year, and has called for the postponement of the vote.

Ankara worries that Kurdish control of Kirkuk and its vast oil reserves would embolden what it believes are Kurdish ambitions to break away from Baghdad -- a prospect it fears could set up an example for Kurds in adjoining southeast Turkey.

At Thursday's press conference, Buyukanit described Barzani's words as unacceptable and implicitly accused the United States of emboldening the Iraqi Kurdish leader. "We all know who has spoilt (Barzani)," the general said.

"This was the first time in Turkish history that an army chief has challenged the United States without giving names," said Sedat Laciner, the head of the Ankara-based think-tank USAK.

"Turkey has long waited for the United States to do something about PKK rebels, but Barzani's remarks were the last straw," he added. "We are gradually moving towards a military incursion. Turkey is not bluffing."

Washington opposes a possible Turkish incursion into Kurdistan (northern Iraq), which it fears would destabilise the relatively calm area, and has instead argued for non-military means.

"Certainly that's an option that everybody should work to avoid," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday in response to Buyukanit's remarks.

Dogu Ergil, a professor of political science at Ankara University, described Washington's stance as an argument that no longer convinces Ankara.

"It is a great contradiction that the United States, which has invaded Iraq, tells Turkey that a military option is not such a good idea," Ergil said.

There is a high possibility that Turkey could engage in a cross-border operation after presidential elections in May, he added.

"Buyukanit has clearly underlined that Turkey is ready to launch a large-scale operation in Iraq, no matter what the United States or Iraqi Kurds say," he said.


The former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein forced about 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

Kirkuk city is a Kurdistani city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region and it is not under the full control of Kurdistan Regional Government administration, its population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Turkmen.

The Iraqi Constitution mandates that a referendum on control of Kirkuk must be held by the end of this year to decide whether the oil-rich Kurdish province should be annexed to the safe semiautonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq's north.

** The use of the term "Kurdistan" is vigorously rejected due to its alleged political implications by the Republic of Turkey, which does not recognize the existence of a "Turkish Kurdistan" Southeast Turkey.

Others estimate as many as 40 million Kurds live in Big Kurdistan (Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Armenia), which covers an area as big as France, about half of all Kurds which estimate to 20 million live in Turkey.

Turkey is home to some 20 million ethnic Kurds, some of whom openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK for a Kurdish homeland in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish language, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media. The Kurdish alphabet is still not recognized in Turkey, and use of the Kurdish letters X, W, Q which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet has led to judicial persecution in 2000 and 2003

The Kurdish flag flown officially in Iraqi Kurdistan but unofficially flown by Kurds in Armenia. The flag is banned in Iran, Syria, and Turkey where flying it is a criminal offence" -  Southeastern Turkey: North Kurdistan ( Kurdistan-Turkey) wikipedia   


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