Turkey’s president today said his country “has decided” on how to proceed against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and had informed the US.
The US and Iraq have been pressing Turkey to avoid a major cross-border attack on Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, rebel bases in northern Iraq out of fear such an incursion would bring instability to what has been one of the calmest areas in Iraq.
President Abdullah Gul did not specify what decision had been made regarding an attack, but made clear that Turkey feels that the PKK is leading to instability in the region itself.
“Iraq’s stability cannot be limited to fighting terrorism in Baghdad or other regions,” he said. “The terrorist organisation in the north is also disrupting Iraq’s stability.”
The comments come the day after US President George Bush met in Washington with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and promised him that the US would share military intelligence in the hunt for PKK rebels.
Gul said part of Erdogan’s goal in his trip was to share with the US the decision that the country has made on how to deal with the rebels.
“Turkey had made its preparations and had decided what to do on the issue before the prime minister left,” he said.
PKK rebels have killed more than 40 Turks in hit-and-run attacks over the past month, mainly soldiers, raising the public pressure on Erdogan to retaliate.
Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are poised at the south-eastern border with Iraq, and experts speculate that if there is to be an attack this year, it must come soon before the winter weather descends upon the mountainous region making military action nearly impossible.
Both the US and the European Union have labelled the PKK a terrorist organisation, and Bush called the rebels “an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the US.”
In addition to White House worries that a Turkish incursion into Iraq could bring instability to the area, it also is concerned an incursion could set a precedent for other countries, such as Iran, that have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.
Yet, when asked about the possibility of Turkey attacking Iraq, Bush dismissed the question as hypothetical.
He tried instead to assure Turkey that the US is providing support.
“It’s fine to speculate about what may or may not happen,” Bush said. “But nothing can happen until you get good intelligence. We need to know where people are hiding, and we need to know what they’re doing.”
Erdogan said his government has the authority to mount an incursion into Iraq if necessary. But he gave no further indication of his intentions.