- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Warning that “our patience has run out,” the Turkish government has authorized the army to draft a plan for a major military thrust into Iraq to smash Kurdish rebel bases there “once and for all.”

Opinions are divided on whether the expected attack will take place before or after the nation’s July 22 parliamentary elections. According to Turkish sources, a pre-election attack would likely dominate the electoral campaign and dwarf other issues of greater importance to the contending parties.

Another factor is the government’s hope to persuade the United States to lift its opposition to a military action in Iraq, which Washington fears would exacerbate the current turmoil.

Any significant Turkish military thrust into Iraq without American backing would almost certainly damage Turkish-U.S. relations, which already are strained by Ankara’s opposition to Washington’s Iraq policy.

For nearly a year, the United States has been appealing to Turkey for caution despite growing pressure from the Turkish armed forces for action against the Kurds. In February, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the general staff, returned from a tour of the United States disappointed with their failure to win more support.

Turkish politicians are convinced that the United States is doing everything it can not to antagonize the Iraqi Kurds, who are considered the only genuinely pro-American faction on the fragmented Iraqi battlefield. Turkey also fears that growing Kurdish power and autonomy in northern Iraq will inspire resistance among Turkey’s own Kurdish minority.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has introduced laws to improve the status of Turkey’s Kurds, but many Kurdish leaders feel that the measures have been inadequate. They certainly have not satisfied leaders of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, whose guerrilla war on the Turkish state has cost more than 30,000 lives and destroyed entire villages.

According to the Turkish army, the Kurdish rebels maintain a network of camps and training bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, aided by the local Kurdish population. They estimate the number of Kurdish fighters — known as peshmergas — at close to 4,000 in Iraq with more than 2,000 roaming the mountains on the Turkish side.

The Kurdish separatist movement apparently has also infiltrated huge Kurdish settlements known as “gecekondu” (“built overnight”) on the outskirts of Ankara and Istanbul.

Turkey regards Kurdish claims to autonomy as dynamite under the republic’s foundations and has rejected all such demands in the past. In official statements, the government points to the example of assimilated Kurds, some of whom have reached high positions.

Some foreign analysts still consider the Kurdish population in Turkey to be economically and political marginalized and thus prone to violent opposition against the state.

In his most recent statement, Mr. Erdogan said his government could not refuse the army’s demand for an incursion into Iraq, and urged the United States to join in such an action.

“If the terrorist organization is based in northern Iraq, then the United States must fulfill its responsibility,” Mr. Erdogan said. “For us, it is out of the question to fall into disagreement with our security forces and soldiers on this issue.”

Mr. Gul, the foreign minister, said the Kurdish rebels were posing “the greatest threat to Turkey” and were using arms and explosives smuggled from depots of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

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