The tensions continue to mount after the attack on Turkish troops by Kurdish separatists based in Iraqi Kurdistan:
ISTANBUL, Oct. 21 — A brazen ambush by Kurdish militants that left at least 12 Turkish soldiers dead touched off a major escalation in Turkey-Iraq tensions on Sunday, bringing fears that Turkey would retaliate immediately by sending troops across the border into Iraq. But Turkey’s prime minister said he delayed a decision, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally intervened.
The ambush by a large group of Kurdish militants about three miles from the border with Iraq early on Sunday was seen as a direct provocation on the part of the militants, who have increasingly staged raids into Turkey from hide-outs in the mountains of northern Iraq.
It was the most serious attack in recent memory by the militants, separatist fighters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., and came only four days after the Turkish Parliament formally approved contingency plans for military retaliation across the border.
The Turkish military struck back inside Turkey, killing as many as 32 Kurdish militants, a government spokesman said. But the Kurdish ambush still drew strong public outrage here, and its brazenness could effectively force the government to make good on its warning to send forces into northern Iraq.
Asharq Alawsat has a timely interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, coincidentally the hereditary leader of one of the two most powerful Iraqi Kurdish factions. I urge you to read the whole thing but this is of particular interest:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Tension persists in the Kurdistan Region. Are you still convinced that it will not lead to a war and an incursion into northern Iraq? What do you think of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s declaration about “eradicating” the Workers Party of Kurdistan’s [PKK] combatants from Iraqi Kurdistan?
(Talabani) This is a sensitive issue and I would like to speak frankly and clearly about it. For some time we have been advising the PKK to abandon armed action. We have told them: We are living in the globalization era. Partisan wars are no longer acceptable or useful. We believe that the PKK should turn to political, parliamentary, diplomatic, and popular action instead of armed action. In a speech that I recently made in Al-Sulaymaniyah, I openly stated that the Kurds do not believe that the PKK’s military acts in Turkey or Iran can serve the Kurdish people’s interests. Indeed they undermine their interests. We believe that armed action hurts democracy in Turkey and hurts Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party [AKP].This party is a new democratic feature that wishes to build a new Turkish society that makes room for Turkey’s Kurds and the other ethnic groups in the country.
The AKP recognizes the existence of a Kurdish people and a Kurdish cause. It adopts a friendly attitude towards using the Kurdish language in the media. Furthermore the recent parliamentary elections were free in the Kurdish areas and led to the election of patriotic Kurdish deputies to parliament. The AKP won more than 60 percent of the Kurdish vote, which means that they are happy with it. This means that carrying out armed actions against this party serves only chauvinist forces in Turkey.
Regarding the presence of PKK combatants in Iraq, our constitution clearly forbids the continued presence of foreign armed forces on Iraqi territory or using such forces to launch armed attacks on neighboring countries. But what can we do? We want the party to depart from the Kurdistan Region and return to its own country where there is more difficult mountainous terrain, a larger territory, and there it can do what it wants. Iraq does not approve of the presence of the PKK combatants and their armed acts. It cannot tolerate them when they go into Turkey and kill people then return to our territory, thus providing an excuse for other forces to attack our areas. What we can do is condemn these acts but we do not have sufficient military forces to send them to the Qandil Mountains to drive them out. We need our military forces to maintain security in Baghdad’s streets and to fight terrorism.
I wish to state that we are willing to operate within the tripartite committee with Turkey and the United States to put an end to the PKK’s activities in Iraqi Kurdistan and to confine them to the Qandil Mountains. At any rate we do not want to allow them to benefit from the current situation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean that as a first step you wish to drive them out of the populated areas?
(Talabani) We drove them out of the cities and are trying to make them leave all the other populated areas. We wish to prevent them from using facilities including contacting parties abroad, bringing sums of money from abroad, and transporting persons from Europe to Iraqi Kurdistan. We need to put an end to all this. We closed down their offices in the Iraqi cities including Baghdad. They used to operate offices in these cities under various guises.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Turkish Government wants you to arrest their leaders who are present on Iraqi territory.
(Talabani) We cannot do that. How can we arrest the leaders who are present in the mountains and surrounded by thousands of men? The Turkish army, with all its power, cannot do that. How can we do it?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What, then, does Nuri al-Maliki mean by his comment about eradicating their bases?
(Talabani) I do not think that this is accurate talk. The prime minister and I have the same view, namely, that we cannot send sufficient Iraqi forces to fight the PKK.
In my view President Talabani is whitewashing the political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan somewhat. I suspect that the PKK who’ve established bases in Iraqi Kurdistan aren’t just invading Turkish Kurds but probably have substantial support for their views and activities among Iraqi Kurds. I don’t know whether this constitutes a challenge to Messrs. Barzani and Talabani or is consistent with their views. Probably some of both.