Turkey ratchets up pressure on Iraqi Kurds

Turkey on Thursday stepped up pressure on northern Iraq, imposing economic sanctions over the safe haven Kurdish rebels enjoy in the region, as Washington said it was supplying Ankara with intelligence on the separatists’ positions.

“We have prepared a list of economic measures targeting the financial resources of the terrorist organisation and its supporters,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a press conference.

“Some measures have already been put into force,” he said. “These measures will not be announced beforehand so that they do not lose their efficiency.”

Ankara accuses the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq of harbouring and aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which uses bases in the mountainous region for cross-border attacks as part of its 23-year campaign for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south-east.

Turkey has reportedly massed up to 100 000 troops on the border with Iraq and has threatened a military incursion to strike PKK bases unless Baghdad and Washington make good on promises to crack down on the rebels.

“We have no time to lose. All instruments—diplomatic, political, socio-cultural and military—are on the table,” Babacan said.

The NTV news channel said Turkey had closed its air space to flights bound for northern Iraq, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly denied the report.

Babacan, however, said Ankara could opt for such a measure.

“We have from time to time restricted flights on technical grounds; this might happen again,” he said.

The sanctions, agreed in a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, came as the Pentagon announced that it was giving Ankara “more and more” intelligence on PKK positions along the border with Iraq.

“The key for any sort of military response, by the Turks or anybody else, is actionable intelligence,” a Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said.
“And we are making efforts to help them get actionable intelligence.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in Ankara on Friday for talks with Turkish leaders over the mounting tensions, while Erdogan will meet with US President George Bush in Washington on November 5.

The Turkish army’s number two, General Ergin Saygun, will accompany the prime minister.

“Our contacts with the US will determine the next steps that Turkey will take,” Babacan said.

Following her meetings in Ankara, Rice will attend a ministerial conference of Iraq’s neighbours and major Western powers in Istanbul on Friday evening and Saturday.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will also participate in the meeting following talks on Friday in the Turkish capital.

Iraqi officials have expressed concern that the Istanbul meeting will be hijacked by the row over the PKK, but Babacan dismissed the concerns.

“Our attitudes on Iraq in general and on the terrorist organisation are two separate issues,” he said.

Turkish troops have been engaged in major operations targeting the PKK since October 21 when a group of rebels, who Ankara says infiltrated from northern Iraq, ambushed a military unit, killing 12 soldiers and capturing eight.

The army says it has since killed 80 rebels on Turkish territory.

A top PKK commander on Thursday called on Ankara to present a peace plan that could end the group’s rebellion, which has claimed more than 37 000 lives since it began in 1984.

“I call upon Turkey to be courageous and present a peace plan to solve the problem. In this way it is possible to have a ceasefire,” Abdurrahman Cadirci said in an interview. “A military solution has never succeeded.”

Ankara categorically refuses to have any contact with or make concessions to the PKK, which it has blacklisted as a terrorist group.—AFP

Client Media Releases

All things 'creepy crawly' at award-winning UKZN stand
Tellos founder to present at ITWeb AI 2019
The rand: Before, during and after Elections 2019