ROME (Reuters) – Turkey aims to “eliminate” Kurdish rebels operating in northern Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, without revealing “how, when and where” a future operation might take place.
Erdogan, speaking about his Monday meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, said he was pleased that both Ankara and Washington see Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants as a common enemy.
“Now, what is an enemy? An enemy is an element to be eliminated,” he said during a press conference in Rome.
Asked about a possible future military operation in Iraq, Erdogan suggested timely intelligence from the United States could be key. Intelligence sharing was one of Bush’s commitments to Erdogan in Washington.
“It’s important that intelligence sharing happens in a timely manner, and this will certainly lead to all the other eventual counter-measures,” Erdogan said at a news conference in Rome after a meeting with Italy’s prime minister.
Turkish diplomatic sources say that Washington is expected to provide Turkey with real-time, actionable intelligence that would allow Ankara to carry out military operations against the PKK, which has some 3,000 guerrillas based in northern Iraq.
Ankara has been impatient in the past at what it considers U.S. and Iraqi foot-dragging over the threat from the PKK militants and has massed 100,000 troops on the Iraqi border.
But expectations in Iraq of a major Turkish offensive have diminished following Monday’s meeting between Bush and Erdogan.
Erdogan said he could not give information about any future military action against the PKK, because that would be counter-productive.
“At this moment I certainly can’t enter into details because that would only give information to the enemy,” he said.
The United States fears a Turkish incursion could destabilize a part of Iraq that has so far escaped much of the violence plaguing other areas of the country.
U.S. officials also worry that Turkish action could lead to a wider regional crisis.
Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict that began in 1984 when PKK guerrillas took up arms to fight for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey.