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Turkey's Military Chief Calls for Strike Against Kurdish Rebels in Iraq

  • Amberin Zaman

Turkey's powerful Chief of General Staff called on Thursday for military action against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq. The statement by General Yasar Buyukanit marks the first time he has publicly called for a cross border strike against the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. From Istanbul, Amberin Zaman has more details for VOA.

Speaking at a rare news conference, General Buyukanit said he believes that a cross-border offensive against the rebels is the right thing to do.

General Buyukanit said that such action would be effective in helping reduce the risk posed by an estimated 5,000 PKK fighters who have escalated their campaign against Turkish security forces in recent weeks.

The army chief said at least 10 Turkish soldiers have died during an ongoing anti-rebel offensive that was mounted last month. He said 29 PKK militants have been killed in the clashes as well.

General Buyukanit emphasized, however, that his forces cannot launch an offensive in Iraq without prior authorization from the Turkish parliament, which is controlled by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Asked if he has sought authorization, the General said he has not.

Turkey has repeatedly called on the Iraqi government and U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq to drive out the PKK rebels and their leaders from their bases along the mountainous Iran-Iraq border. The U.S. has said broader security problems in Iraq prevent the kind of full-scale military crackdown on the Kurdish rebels that Turkey demands.

The Iraqi government has no troops in northern Iraq, which is administered by the largely autonomous Kurdistan regional government led by Massoud Barzani. General Buyukanit accused the Kurdish leader of providing arms and sanctuary for the PKK.

Relations between Barzani and the Turkish government have sharply deteriorated in recent days. Tensions were sparked when the Iraqi Kurdish leader threatened to destabilize Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast if Turkey were to meddle in northern Iraq.

Turkey says it reserves the right under international law to pursue PKK rebels in northern Iraq should Iraq and the United States continue to ignore its calls for action.

The Bush administration condemned Barzani's implicit threat to fuel Kurdish unrest in Turkey, but has repeatedly voiced its opposition to Turkish military interference in Iraq. It has been quietly pressing the Ankara government to solve its Kurdish problem through diplomatic and political means.

Prime Minister Erdogan made some tentative overtures to the Kurds and became the first Turkish leader to acknowledge that the state has made mistakes in the way it has handled the country's largest ethnic minority. But Erdogan was forced to back down under pressure from the country's hawkish military leaders.

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