Turkey to Warn Iraq on Rebel Sanctuaries

Kurdish separatists from Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party operate from sanctuaries in northern Iraq. Turkey's ruling party now agrees with the military on attacking their bases.
Kurdish separatists from Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party operate from sanctuaries in northern Iraq. Turkey's ruling party now agrees with the military on attacking their bases. (By Yahya Ahmed -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 6, 2007

CAIRO -- Turkish leaders this week will give visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki what Turkish military commanders and analysts said could be a final warning to act against anti-Turkey Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq -- or to stand by while Turkish forces go after the rebels themselves, risking a new front in Iraq's war.

Leaders of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party appear to be in agreement with Turkey's generals that the time has come to move against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, in its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, former generals and a military expert close to the Turkish military's general staff said.

At least 30,000 people have been killed since the Kurdish rebels launched a campaign in 1984 for an independent Kurdish homeland in eastern Turkey. Clashes and bombs this week killed 14 Turkish soldiers and rebel fighters. The rebels also kidnapped eight residents of a Kurdish village in the east.

Turkey accuses Iraq's Kurds -- who have built a nearly autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq under protection of the U.S. military since the early 1990s -- of giving the Kurdish rebels a haven and allowing them free passage back and forth across the Iraqi border into Turkey.

"The Turkish people want the government to do something, and in this case, the Turkish military and government now coincide," retired Turkish Maj. Gen. Armagan Kuloglu said in a telephone interview from the Turkish capital of Ankara.

"It could be any moment, basically," said Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow and director at the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute in Washington who is familiar with the Turkish military command.

"Both the civilian and military leadership believe we really have to do something about it, that this is getting ridiculous," Baran said.

Turkey's military, outraged at what it says have been escalating attacks on its troops by the PKK, has been warning for months of an imminent invasion of northern Iraq in pursuit of the PKK.

The timing of a Turkish attack is a matter of "whenever it's convenient," Baran said. "August or September," she added.

Baran and some others expect U.S. forces to join in if Turkey does act against the rebels in northern Iraq. The scenario most often cited is an operation involving U.S. and Turkish special forces already in northern Iraq.

"I do believe that the Americans . . . are probably getting ready to do something jointly with Turkey, but they really don't want the Turks to go on their own," Baran said.

Robert D. Novak wrote in a syndicated column that appeared July 30 in The Washington Post that Eric S. Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and now an undersecretary of defense policy, had secretly briefed U.S. lawmakers that the United States was planning a covert action with the Turkish army against the PKK in northern Iraq. Edelman added that "the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied," according to Novak.

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