After Turkish soldiers are killed, tensions rise on border with Iraq's Kurdish region
After sustaining the worst attack on its military in a decade on Sunday, the country weighs launching a military incursion over its southern border.
A day after 12 Turkish soldiers were killed in an ambush by alleged Kurdish guerrillas near the border with Iraq's Kurdish region, the Turkish government rushed troops to the border area and the government in Ankara came under intense pressure to move forces into the Kurdish portion of Iraq.
The Associated Press reports that many Turks believe the semiautonomous Kurdish government in Iraq is providing safe-haven to a Kurdish movement violently seeking independence from Turkey.
An AP Television News cameraman saw a convoy of 50 military vehicles, loaded with soldiers and weapons, heading from the southeastern town of Sirnak toward Uludere, closer to the border with Iraq.
The guerrilla ambush that killed a dozen soldiers on Sunday outraged an already frustrated public, with nationalists staging demonstrations and opposition leaders calling for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the US and European leaders.
The rebel attack occurred four days after Parliament authorized the government to deploy troops across the border in Iraq, amid growing anger in Turkey at perceived US and Iraqi failure to live up to pledges to crack down on the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, based in northern Iraq.
Turkey, a close US ally, has grown increasingly frustrated at what it believes is the failure of Kurdish Iraqi and US forces to bring PKK guerillas to heel. While the US has urged Turkey to exercise restraint, public anger inside that country and political differences with the US over other issues have inflamed tensions. The Sunday attack was the worst on Turkish soldiers in over a decade.
Reuters reports that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is willing to give the US a little time to take action on its own, but has stressed that his patience is limited.
Erdogan said he had agreed to give the US, which is anxious to avert any Turkish military strikes in northern Iraq, a few days in which to make a decision. But he then wanted Washington to take "swift" steps against the Kurdish separatists.
Ankara estimates there are 3,000 PKK rebels based in northern Iraq fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Its military has deployed as many as 100,000 troops, backed by tanks and attack helicopters, along the border.
President Abdullah Gul's office said late on Sunday that Turkey would pay whatever price was needed to defeat terrorism.
"While respecting the territorial integrity of Iraq, Turkey will not shy away from paying whatever price is necessary to protect its rights, its laws, its indivisible unity and its citizens," said the statement, issued after the crisis talks.
To be sure, the US is playing down the chances of an imminent Turkish incursion. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday to attend meetings of a 12-nation group of Southeast European Defense Ministers, met with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul. Mr. Gates told reporters that Mr. Gonul was "implying a reluctance on their part to act unilaterally."
Nevertheless, there is plenty of saber-rattling in Turkey. In a front page article in the Turkish Today's Zaman newspaper headlined "Heinous attack stretches Turkey's patience to limit," the ambush is described as having been organized from within Kurdish Iraq.
A group of PKK terrorists infiltrated Turkish territory from northern Iraq and attacked a military unit from three different directions just after midnight near Dağlıc ... according to a statement from the General Staff. A total of 32 terrorists were killed as the military responded to the attack, and clashes are ongoing, the statement said.
The statement also hinted that a hot pursuit of the terrorists across the border with Iraq was under way, saying troops were chasing after the PKK members.... Some 63 suspected PKK targets were being shelled, the statement said, without explaining whether these targets were in Turkey or Iraq.
In a statement carried by the Fırat news agency, the mouthpiece of the PKK, the terrorist group said it was holding hostage several soldiers. Reports quoted PKK members as saying that the soldiers were being kept in Turkey, not in Iraq
The Los Angeles Times reports that Mr. Erdogan is scheduled to meet President Bush in Washington in early November and that the "PKK will undoubtedly top their agenda."
Through a spokesman, Bush denounced the new violence by "PKK terrorists" and called for the attacks to "be dealt with swiftly by the Iraqi government and Kurdish regional authorities."
Erdogan presided over the emergency meeting Sunday to plan a possible incursion. "Our anger, our hatred is great," the prime minister said before the session.
When officials emerged grim-faced hours later, they issued a statement accusing the PKK of attempting to use "heinous attacks" to "disrupt the unity and integrity of our society."
"Although Turkey respects Iraq's territorial integrity, it will not tolerate that terrorism is aided and abetted there, and it will not refrain from paying any price to protect its rights and law, territorial integrity and its people," the government said.
The New York Times reports that Turkey's threats are leaving the US in a difficult position and that senior Iraqi-Kurdish officials are digging in.
Action by Turkey, a NATO ally, would be extremely embarrassing for the United States, which has military control over the territory that the Turks are threatening to invade. Moreover, a Turkish advance into northern Iraq would instantly bring fresh troubles to a country where the United States is preoccupied with the war
For their part, Iraq officials offered a mixed response. While denouncing the Kurdish ambush and expressing the wish for good relations with Turkey, they rejected Turkish demands that militant leaders be captured and handed over to Turkey. "We are looking for peace, not war, and to solve problems peacefully," said Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president. But Mr. Talabani, who is himself a Kurd, added tartly, "We will not hand any Kurdish man to Turkey, even a Kurdish cat."