ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey expects the United States to take urgent action against Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq, its prime minister said, in comments suggesting Ankara hopes to avoid a Turkish military operation in the region.
Turkey’s parliament this week authorized troops to cross the mountainous border into northern Iraq to track down rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who use the region as a base from which to attack Turkish targets.
“We expect the coalition forces in Iraq, above all the Americans, to take steps in the current situation,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish television late on Friday.
“These steps must be taken to ensure we get good results in the fight against the terrorist organization in northern Iraq.”
“We expect things from the United States rather than from Iraq,” he said. The Baghdad government has little clout in the mainly Kurdish autonomous region of the north.
Washington and Baghdad have urged Ankara to avoid military action, which they fear could destabilize the whole region, and to fight the PKK by diplomatic and other means.
But Erdogan’s government is under heavy domestic pressure to act after a series of deadly PKK attacks on Turkish troops.
Erdogan said he would discuss anti-PKK measures with U.S. President George W. Bush when they meet in Washington on November 5.
Asked whether Turkey might consider a joint operation with Iraqi forces to root out the PKK rebels, Erdogan said: “That is a separate proposal. We can discuss that.”
Western diplomats say Ankara remains reluctant to take military action because of the security, economic and diplomatic risks. But the parliamentary authorization is useful because it keeps the rebels guessing and also increases pressure on Washington and Baghdad to take their own action against the PKK.
Ankara blames the PKK, which the United States and the European Union also brand as a terrorist group, for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the rebels launched their armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.