Turkey warned Saturday that it could send troops into northern Iraq after Sunday’s general elections if talks with Iraqi and US officials fail to produce effective measures against Kurdish rebels based there.Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he invited his Iraqi counterpart NuriÂ Maliki to visit Ankara after the vote to discuss the presence of Kurdish Labour Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq.
Accusing Washington of failing to fulfill its pledge of curbing the PKK, Erdogan said he would seek trilateral talks in order to resolve the problem.
“We will ask them to take whatever steps are necessary, or we will do whatever is necessary,” Erdogan told the Kanal-7 television network. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Ankara would not hesitate to act to eliminate the threat posed by the PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by both Ankara and Washington.
“Our aim is not to enter Iraq, but to neutralise the terrorist organisation,” Gul told the TGRT television channel. “We will use our right [to self-defence] as long as the terrorist organisation continues to harm Turkey.” The PKK has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984 in a bloody conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
The rebels have stepped up their attacks this year and the army has massed troops on the border with Iraq, fuelling speculation of a crossborder operation.
In the latest fighting, PKK rebels armed with rocket launchers attacked a police checkpoint late Friday in the southeastern town of Semdinli, close to the border with Iraq and Iran, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Two police officers were slightly injured in the attack, it said.
Mounting PKK violence has been a dominant campaign issue ahead of Sunday’s vote, with the opposition accusing Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for being soft on the rebels.
Some government ministers have been the targets of protest by angry crowds at funerals for soldiers slain in fighting with the rebels.
Opinion surveys tip the AKP to win Sunday’s elections and secure a second term in power, with some suggesting that it may garner more than 40 per cent of the vote for a solid parliamentary majority.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party and the right-wing Nationalist Action Party, which both advocate a tougher stance against the PKK, are expected to make it into parliament as well.
Ankara says the rebels enjoy safe haven in northern Iraq, where they obtain weapons and explosives for cross-border attacks against Turkish targets.
It also accuses northern Iraqi Kurds of turning a blind eye to the PKK presence on their territory, and even of supporting the rebels.
Washington opposes any Turkish military action, fearing this could destabilise the relatively peaceful region and further strain already tense ties between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds, staunch allies of the United States.