ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s army chief said Thursday the military had launched several “large scale” offensives against rebels in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, and he asked the government for approval to launch an incursion into neighboring northern
Washington repeatedly has cautioned Turkey against staging a cross-border offensive, fearing that it could destabilize the region and antagonize Iraqi Kurds, who are allied with the U.S.
But Iraq’s government is barely able to control its own cities. U.S. commanders, who are battling the Iraqi insurgency in the middle of the country, are stretched too thin to take on Turkish Kurds hiding in remote mountains near the frontier.
On Monday, the Turkish government demanded again that U.S. and Iraqi officials crack down on guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
“An operation into Iraq is necessary,” said Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the head of Turkey’s powerful military. “The PKK has huge freedom of movement in Iraq … It has spread its roots in Iraq.”
Buyukanit said the military already was moving against separatists in the southeast.
“There are several large-scale operations under way in several areas,” Buyukanit told a press conference. “Our aim is to prevent them from taking positions in the region with the coming of spring.”
The offensives were launched to coincide with spring, when the rebels intensify attacks on Turkey using mountain passes opened by melting snow, Buyukanit said.
Recent clashes already have killed 10 soldiers and 29 Kurdish guerrillas, Buyukanit said. The separatist conflict has left more than 37,000 people dead since 1984.
Turkey launched operations into northern Iraq several times in the late 1990s, when it was out of President
Saddam Hussein’s control.
It has recently been accused of shelling Kurdish positions inside Iraq.
Turkey is especially concerned about a bid to incorporate the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk into the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, fearing that Iraqi Kurds will use revenues from the city’s oil wealth to fund a bid for independence.
The Iraqi government recently decided to implement a constitutional requirement to determine the status of Kirkuk — which is disputed among several different ethnic groups — by the end of the year. The plan is expected to turn Kirkuk and its vast oil reserves over to Kurdish control, a step also rejected by many of Iraq’s Arabs and ethnic Turks, who are strongly backed by the Turkish government.