Turkey Attacks PKK in Iraq
Turkey’s Armed Forces on Thursday launched a broad land assault into northern Iraq to attack bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in a major escalation of a long-running conflict.
Twenty-two battalions were involved in a “large scale” operation targeting five areas in Iraq and Turkey, a statement on the website of the general staff of the military said. A Turkish defense ministry official said the force amounted to some 9,000-10,000 troops.
The cross-border operation followed one of the deadliest attacks the PKK has carried out in almost three decades of fighting, first for a separate Kurdish state and more recently for greater autonomy and language rights.
The general staff statement confirmed that PKK attack early Wednesday on eight locations in Hakkari province, where Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Iran meet, had left 24 soldiers dead and 18 wounded, four of them seriously.
“Our aim is to take the first step…and to see what can be achieved to reach the end result,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in televised remarks Thursday. “This is why our military forces are carrying out this [operation] from land and air in a decisive manner.”
Turkey is also putting pressure on the Kurdish authorities of Northern Iraq to take action to expel the PKK from Iraqi territory. Mr. Erdogan said on Thursday that Kurdistan Regional Government leader, Massoud Barzani, had agreed to visit Turkey “immediately.”
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke to his Iraqi counterpart by phone on Wednesday. “It is time for action and solid steps, not condemnation,” Mr. Davotuglu, told Hoshyar Zebari, according to Turkey’s state Anadolu news agency.
The PKK are based in a remote, mountainous corner of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish authorities there have found themselves in a difficult position. They have a rapidly growing trade relationship with Turkey and a prickly past relationship with the Marxist PKK. Already this summer, roads to the area were blocked off to journalists and other nonresidents, forcing a lengthy ride on goat herder tracks through the mountains.
Yet attacking fellow Kurds is unpopular, especially if Turkish aircraft and troops begin to cause civilian casualties among Iraqis who live in the mountains.
Mr. Erdogan also convened a meeting with Turkish newspaper and television editors Thursday, in which he warned them about “disseminating terrorist propaganda, knowingly or unknowingly.”
“We do not mean to intervene…that would be antidemocratic. We expect [media] to impose self-control and a national standing,” he said. Turkey has been widely criticized over press freedoms, with scores of journalists jailed on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.