Fears are growing that Turkey may take unilateral military action in northern Iraq against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, whose fighters have been staging cross-border attacks. Turkey's most senior general wants to send his armed forces into northern Iraq to disrupt the safe haven the PKK has enjoyed since Saddam Hussein's ouster, but civilian leaders in Ankara have so far declined to approve any intervention. The United States is urging Turkey to exercise restraint. Correspondent Simon Marks reports.
It is in the mountains where Turkey's most senior military figure now wants to deploy his troops. They overlook predominantly Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey, but lie in Iraqi terrain.
The PKK – the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party – has continued to launch cross-border attacks from Iraq into Turkey. The PKK says it is fighting for Kurdish independence, but the group is branded a terrorist organization by the Turkish government and by the United States.
The Turks say the PKK is operating with virtual impunity from inside Iraq, just across the border.
General Yaser Buyukanit, the chief of the Turkish army, says it is time for his country to take action. "Yes, an operation should be ordered. Would it be useful? Yes, it would."
This is the first time the Turkish military – a powerful political force in its own right – has publicly called on the government to authorize cross-border operations.
It puts pressure on Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Publicly, he has been very critical of the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq for failing to crack down on the PKK, but so far he has held back from endorsing military intervention.
The United States is urging Turkey not to send troops into northern Iraq. Washington fears relative tranquility in southern Turkish cities like Diyarbakir may be threatened if Iraqi Kurds retaliate against any Turkish military maneuvers.
But retired general Edip Baser, Turkey's special envoy on the PKK, says the Turkish military is not sympathetic to U.S. calls for restraint.
"It's hard to understand why we should not use one of our international rights, as this terrorist organization is still active and coming into my country, and acting in my country, killing people and then going back to northern Iraq,” says the general. “Why I shouldn't go after them?"
The U.S. argues any upheaval along Turkey's border with Iraq threatens to create instability, not resolve it.
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, spoke on the issue in an interview late last year.
"We have felt for a long time that foreign intervention, foreign actions in Iraq would probably be more destabilizing than they would do good, first. And second, we thought that if we have a cooperative effort with Turkey and with the Iraqi authorities, we could accomplish the same objective of ensuring that northern Iraq is not a base for PKK attacks to be launched on Turkey."
But the Turkish military says those cooperative efforts are failing to make progress and the public call for military action raises the stakes in Turkey and beyond.