Rebels Vow to Resist Turkish Incursion

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 2, 2007; 9:08 AM

CIZRE, Turkey -- The top commander of a Kurdish rebel group said his forces would resist any Turkish military incursion aimed at destroying rebel bases in northern Iraq, a news agency reported Saturday.

Turkey has been building up its military forces on the Iraqi border in recent weeks, amid debate among political and military leaders about whether to attack rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who stage raids in southeast Turkey from hideouts in Iraq.

"No one should expect us to extend our necks as sheep to be slaughtered in the face of an attack aimed at destroying us," Firat news agency quoted the rebel commander, Murat Karayilan, as saying.

Despite the bold rhetoric, however, analysts say the guerrillas would probably not stand and fight. Instead, they might seek safety in cave complexes or run deeper inside northern Iraq, leaving Turkey with what could turn into an open-ended and costly deployment inside Iraq.

"Moving three to five kilometers (two to three miles) inside would not solve the problem," said Nihat Ali Ozcan of Turkey's Economic Policy Research Institute. "It is not easy to find even 3,000 terrorists in such difficult geography, which is full of mountain ranges, caves, hidden valleys and unknowns for Turkish soldiers."

During past major incursions in the 1990s, fighting occurred on a front stretching more than 100 miles, mostly in rugged terrain where communications were difficult and the Turkish Kurds were already entrenched in the mountains. Turkey still has more than 1,000 troops deployed in northern Iraq from the last major incursion a decade ago.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Saturday urged Turkey not to stage a new incursion, saying his government will not allow the relatively peaceful area of northern Iraq to be turned into a battleground.

"If there are some problems, we should not rely on weapons and threats, or use violence and power because this will increase tension and deepen problems," al-Maliki said at a news conference with the leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, in the regional capital of Irbil.

While the Turkish army has described the troop movements on the frontier as routine maneuvers, the military chief said Thursday that the army was ready for a cross-border offensive and was only awaiting government orders.

If Turkey enters Iraq again, the military might set up a buffer zone as deep as 12 miles to try to stop rebel infiltration, a Turkish government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Turks accuse Iraqi Kurds, who once fought alongside the Turkish soldiers against the PKK in Iraq, of supporting the separatist rebels and worry that the war in Iraq could lead to the country's disintegration and the creation of a Kurdish state in the north.

Turkish intelligence reports say Iraqi Kurds are building defenses and imams of mosques in northern Iraq are calling on Iraqi Kurds to resist any Turkish incursion.

Such a confrontation between two U.S. allies could raise tensions between Turkey and the U.S., which is struggling to stabilize Iraq. Turkey had expected the U.S. and Iraq to eliminate the guerrillas' safe havens in northern Iraq, but U.S. troops have not pursued the rebels.

© 2007 The Associated Press