Turkish army poised on border with Iraq

Turkish military chief stresses need for incursion into northern Iraq to battle Kurdish insurgents.

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May 31, 2007 13:31
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Turkey's military massed more troops and tanks on the border with Iraq Thursday as the country's military chief said he was ready to stage a cross-border offensive to fight Kurdish guerrillas. Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said he had already sought government approval to mount military action. He complained about what he said was a lack of help from allies in fighting the Kurds as Turkish leaders publicly asked the United States and Iraq to destroy and scatter rebel bases inside Iraq. Previously, Buyukanit has said Europe was not doing enough to limit the activities of fundraisers and other sympathizers of the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK. "It is obvious that Turkey does not receive the necessary support in its fight against terrorism," Buyukanit said at an international security conference in Istanbul. "I should state clearly that there are countries which directly or indirectly support PKK terrorism. We feel truly saddened because of this." Turkish troops, reinforced by planes and helicopter gunships, have killed 14 PKK guerrillas in operations near the border since Monday and the deployment on the border made it more difficult for the rebels to retreat to bases in northern Iraq, the military said. Military trucks hauled more tanks and guns to the border area Thursday, local reporters said. The US State Department said Wednesday that it has seen nothing to substantiate reports of a significant movement of Turkish military forces in the area near the country's border with Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would back any military decision to stage a cross-border offensive, but that the military has not asked for written permission. But Buyukanit said he had already asked for approval during a news conference on April 12. "I have already said what has to be said, I don't have to ask for anything in written form," CNN-Turkish television quoted Buyukanit as saying Thursday. "An operation into Iraq is necessary," Buyukanit said on April 12. Buyukanit's remarks appeared to put Erdogan's government under pressure to ask for approval from Parliament to send soldiers into Iraq to fight separatist Kurdish guerrillas. The United States opposes any unilateral Turkish military action, fearing it could destabilize northern Iraq - the most stable part of the war-torn country. Past cross-border operations have yielded mixed results, with many guerrillas sheltering in hide-outs and emerging to fight again once the bulk of Turkish units withdrew from Iraq. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the military could set up a buffer zone in northern Iraq to block Kurdish rebels from entering Turkey. Turkey had set up a buffer zone along the 200-mile (330--kilometer) border in 1997 but gradually withdrew the bulk of its troops under international pressure, leaving about 1,000 inside Iraq. Those troops act as monitors, but have not pursued the rebels. "To set up a buffer zone, Turkey needs to secure the consent of both Washington and the Iraqi Kurds," said Nihat Ali Ozcan of the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara. "However, the military buildup clearly puts more pressure on US and Iraqi forces to do something quickly." Turkish intelligence reports said Iraqi Kurdish groups, who had fought against Turkey's Kurdish guerrillas alongside Turkish soldiers in past incursions, were preparing defenses on their side of the border, apparently in case of any Turkish incursion. The Turkish military says up to 3,800 rebels are now based in Iraq, and up to 2,300 operate inside Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of troops since the guerrillas launched a war for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast in 1984.


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