Premier Says Turkey Is Ready For Split With U.S. Over Kurds

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 13, 2007

ISTANBUL, Oct. 12 -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that he is prepared for a rupture in relations with the United States if his government launches an incursion into northern Iraq in search of Kurdish rebels.

"If such an option is chosen, whatever its price, it will be paid," Erdogan said to reporters Friday after meeting with party leaders. "There could be pros and cons of such a decision, but what is important is our country's interests."

Erdogan criticized the United States for warning against a Turkish attack in one of the few relatively stable regions of war-ravaged Iraq.

"Did they seek permission from anyone when they came from a distance of 10,000 kilometers and hit Iraq?" Erdogan asked. "We do not need anyone else's advice."

U.S.-Turkish tensions over separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have been exacerbated by a congressional committee's approval Wednesday of a resolution labeling the mass killings of Armenians nearly a century ago genocide. Turkey acknowledges the deaths of tens of thousands of Armenians but argues that they occurred in fighting after the Armenians allied themselves with Russian forces invading the Ottoman Empire.

"Democrats are harming the future of the United States and are encouraging anti-American sentiments," Erdogan said Friday, referring to Democratic Party leaders who supported the measure. President Bush had lobbied hard against the resolution. On Thursday, Turkey summoned its ambassador from Washington for emergency consultations.

Erdogan and his advisers are expected to seek -- and win -- parliamentary authorization next week to launch strikes in northern Iraq in the aftermath of Kurdish rebel attacks that have killed 30 soldiers, police officers and civilians in the past two weeks. On Thursday, a soldier was killed in an explosion in a mountainous border region where the Turkish army has been conducting operations against separatists, the Anatolian news agency reported Friday.

The Kurdish guerrillas issued a statement Friday saying their fighters were preparing to carry out attacks against Turkey's main political parties in response to Erdogan's warnings of a possible military incursion in northern Iraq. The statement, carried by the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, quoted Bahoz Erdal, a senior PKK commander, as saying fighters were moving deeper into Turkey and taking new "positions."

Turkey has complained that since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kurdish guerrilla leaders have operated freely in the Kurdish northern region of the country. Turkish officials have criticized the United States and Iraq for not taking action against the separatists.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, the Turkish military regularly launched cross-border incursions targeting Kurdish rebel strongholds. In recent months, the Turkish military has frequently fired artillery across the border and has launched a major aerial bombardment of a mountainous region straddling the border.

R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said in an interview taped by CNN Turk on Wednesday: "There has to be more effective cooperation among Iraq, Turkey and the United States to prevent" guerrillas from using northern Iraq as a base to attack Turkey.

"I think the rest of us need to do more to help the Turkish government to deal with the threat," he added.

Erdogan is under pressure from both the Turkish military, which for months has wanted him to seek approval for launching an attack, and the Turkish public, which has expressed outrage at the recent PKK attacks.

Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim met with Turkish Ambassador Derya Kanbay in Baghdad on Friday to discuss the crisis. The Iraqi minister released a terse statement after the meeting saying the two discussed "means of developing relations between the two friendly countries in the field of combating terror and exchange of information."

Last month, Turkey and Iraq signed an agreement for greater cooperation in cracking down on Kurdish rebels in Iraq, but Erdogan said Friday that the accord had not yet been implemented. During negotiations, the Iraqis denied a request by Turkey to conduct cross-border raids into northern Iraq.

Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.

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