Correction to This Article
A July 20 A-section article about Turkey's stance toward the Kurds in northern Iraq incorrectly referred to the Turkish town of Sirnak as Selcan.

Turkey Taking Harder Line on Restive Kurds

A Turkish soldier stands guard at a post along the Iraqi border. Turkey accuses Iraqi Kurdish leaders of tolerating the presence of separatists who attack Turkish troops.
A Turkish soldier stands guard at a post along the Iraqi border. Turkey accuses Iraqi Kurdish leaders of tolerating the presence of separatists who attack Turkish troops. (By Serkan Senturk -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 20, 2007

SILOPI, Turkey, July 19 -- Soldiers guarding the heights of Turkey's Kurdish southeast have long used their vantage point to deliver messages to the restive population below, plopping whitewashed stones onto the hillsides to form terse admonitions, such as: "Motherland above all."

Lately the Turkish troops' messages for the Kurds have grown sterner and longer. Outside Silopi, an outpost on the ancient Silk Road from China and now a border town along the Turkey-Iraq frontier, one spills down the yellow grass of the steppe, in rows of letters each the size of a man:

"We are resolute and motivated against struggles threatening the unity that is the ancient heritage of our motherland."

The reason for the Turkish military's tougher tone toward the country's Kurdish minority lies just a few more mountains south, across the border in northern Iraq. There, Iraqi Kurds under the protection of occupying U.S. troops are flourishing under their own increasingly assertive Kurdish government, strengthening their Kurdish militias, flying their Kurdish flags.

Turkey's government charges that Iraqi Kurdish leaders are tolerating the presence of a Kurdish separatist movement that has killed about 70 Turkish soldiers this year.

Many Turks say the growing security threat posed by the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by the initials PKK, is the top issue in Turkish parliamentary elections set for Sunday.

"America broke the Iraqi state. There is no way to rebuild it. As a result, there is a Kurdish state that protects the PKK," Nejat Eslen, a retired Turkish brigadier general, said in an interview at his home in Istanbul this week.

Nationalist political parties, riding a wave of public unease over intensifying attacks by the PKK and the rise of Kurdish nationalism in northern Iraq, are expected to gain seats Sunday. Such gains would mean more support in parliament for a cross-border offensive against the PKK in northern Iraq.

Turkey's military last month created what it called a security zone in the wedge of Turkish territory jutting between Iran and Iraq, an area that has experienced decades of clashes between the PKK and Turkish troops.

All sides agree that Turkey is deploying additional troops in the zone, but none agree on how many.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders, fearing invasion, alleged this month that Turkey had assembled 140,000 troops in the security zone.

Bush administration officials called the figure exaggerated. Turkish journalists in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir with experience in the border area estimated that the Turkish deployment in the main stretch of border had roughly doubled, to perhaps 50,000.


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