- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s parliament could move as early as this week to authorize an armor-backed force along the mountains facing Iraq to cross the border in pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

Greek commentators, traditionally wary of Turkish intentions, described the situation as threatening to lead Turkey into a collision not only with Iraq, but also with the United States and the European Union.

Washington has urged Turkey to refrain from any action that could further destabilize Iraq, and the European Union has warned that rash action could create another stumbling block in Turkey’s problematic application for membership.

Turkey has insisted that the troop movements along the border are just routine exercises. But diplomatic assessments suggest that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will bow to popular pressure and attack Iraqi bases of the Kurdish guerrilla movement known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

His government has accused the United States of a “double standard” in the war against terrorism by refusing to clamp down on PKK bases in Iraq.

Diplomats say Mr. Erdogan must keep in mind the Turkish general election scheduled for July 22. Members of his governing Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym AKP) have been pushing for decisive action against rebel bases.

“As soldiers, we are ready,” said Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the armed forces general staff, after massing a force of troops, tanks, armored personal carriers and paramilitary “jandarma” in the bleak mountains separating Turkey from Iraq’s predominantly Kurdish areas.

A critic of U.S. policy in the area, Gen. Buyukanit told an international symposium on security at the War Academy in Istanbul last week that “Turkey does not receive the necessary support in the fight against terrorism.”

“There are countries which directly or indirectly support PKK terrorism,” he said.

An estimated 4,000 Kurdish rebels are sheltered in training and supply bases in predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. The Turkish government fears that collusion between the rebels and Iraqi Kurds could lead to the creation of a separate Kurdish state with ambitions to control Kurdish-majority areas in Turkey.

The conservative Greek daily Kathimerini accused Turkey of “playing with fire.”

“Mired in deep political crisis, Ankara stands on the brink of launching an opportunistic military campaign in northern Iraq,” the newspaper wrote.

“The military would like to see a crisis erupt in northern Iraq that would allow the generals to impose martial law … . Erdogan is singing the same song to demonstrate his own nationalist credentials.”

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