Turkey toughens line against Iraqi Kurds with
threat of incursion
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,
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
"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
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
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
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,"
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,
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
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 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
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
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" -
North Kurdistan ( Kurdistan-Turkey)
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