SIIRT, TURKEY - During the national day
celebration this week, helicopter gunships circled
over Siirt's stadium and snipers stood watch on
rooftops — signs of the rising tension in southeast
Turkey as Kurdish separatists rekindle an insurgency
after a five-year lull.
Turkish intelligence officials say 2,000 fighters of
the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party have recently
infiltrated from their bases in the mountains of
northern Iraq to carry out attacks.
The group, known as the PKK, is thought to have
3,500 more guerrillas still in Iraq.
So far this month, 10 police officers and soldiers
have been killed in southeastern Turkey, and the
rebels are vowing to step up their attacks and also
strike at Turkish cities in the west that have been
largely spared fighting during a 2-decade-old
Turkey is demanding that U.S. and Iraqi officials
crack down on Turkish Kurds who for more than a
decade have taken advantage of instability in Iraq
to run their rebellion from hideouts in the
predominantly Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed his
government's concerns during a meeting Friday with
his Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who said
Iraq "will not allow any group to harm any
But Iraq's government is barely able to control its
own cities. U.S. commanders, who are battling the
Iraqi insurgency in the middle of the country, are
stretched too thin to take on Turkish Kurds hiding
in remote mountains near the frontier.
A further complication: The United States has long
been allied with Iraqi Kurds, who are part of Iraq's
struggling new government.
The fight in Turkey has brought instability to a key
U.S. ally that strategically straddles Europe and
the Middle East. And it has some Turks questioning
just how strong their ties should be with a United
States that is not moving against the rebels.
The rebellion, which began in 1984 and has caused
37,000 deaths, also adds a further kink to
predominantly Islamic Turkey's bid for membership in
the European Union, which is already complicated by
questions of cultural and religious compatibility
Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Turkey's
government of using brutal tactics in fighting the
rebels, who were at their peak of power in the
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights called
for Turkey to retry rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan,
saying his 1999 trial was not fair.