Friday, 30 September 2011

Turkish government pushes for cross-border operation

Amid a sharp rise in the number of attacks by Kurdish militants, the Turkish government is urging parliament to renew a mandate empowering it to pursue the rebels into their sanctuaries in northern Iraq.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted the motion on 27th September, and it is expected to be discussed as a top priority as soon as the legislature reconvenes on 1st October. The AKP's domination of parliament, along with widespread opposition support for a tough stance, makes it a near-certainty that the motion will pass.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has launched a wave of attacks in Turkey's predominantly-Kurdish southeast since August. Dozens of soldiers and police have been killed, as well as civilians, and the PKK has also recently taken to kidnapping teachers. On 20th September, a car bomb in the capital Ankara was claimed by a PKK offshoot.

A wave of air and artillery strikes has been carried out in northern Iraq since August, but has failed to stop the upsurge in violence. The government now appears determined to launch a ground offensive across the border, as it has done sporadically for the last four years.

The motion now before parliament would renew the government's existing mandate to conduct cross-border operations, which was granted in 2007 and renewed each year. The current mandate expires on 17th October, suggesting that the AKP is planning a lengthy offensive. Large-scale troop movements in the area also indicate that the operation will be substantial.

Cross-border operations would provoke new tensions with the autonomous government of Kurdish northern Iraq (the KRG). The authorities in Erbil have repeatedly protested against Turkish and Iranian raids on Kurdish rebels within Iraq, accusing them of killing civilians. Although the KRG has affirmed its desire to root out militants using its territory as a safe haven, longstanding ties between them make it difficult for Kurdish authorities to dislodge the PKK and its offshoots.

A sustained Turkish ground offensive would ring alarm bells in both Erbil and Baghdad, which is already under pressure from various sides and concerned that, with the US presence rapidly fading, the Kurdish north is slipping away into an independent state fighting its own wars. It would also raise concerns that the borders between Iran, Iraq and Turkey are increasingly permeable and irrelevant.

Sources; Today's Zaman, Hurriyet

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