Turkey to boost its troop presence in northern Iraq

ERCAN YAVUZ
ANKARA


Sixteen warplanes participated in aerial raids against terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party hideouts in northern Iraq in the second day of the military operations on Thursday.
Turkey is preparing to take the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to northern Iraq by turning outposts it has maintained for intelligence gathering there since 1995 into operational front garrisons, Today’s Zaman has learned.
According to confidential sources talking about Thursday’s National Security Council (MGK) meeting, chaired by President Abdullah Gül, the government has decided to restructure the troops it has deployed in the Bamerni, Batufa, Kanimasi and Dilmentepe outposts in Northern Iraq. The Bamerni garrison will be turned into a logistics center for supporting major operations to be conducted against the PKK militants in the region. Turkey maintains 2500 troops in Northern Iraq and they were deployed in 1995 with the permission of the Kurdish regional government. The Special Operations Command also has liaison offices in Süleymaniye and Arbil.

The fortification of outposts will allow Turkish troops in Iraq to stay longer in search of PKK terrorists. The professional units from ??rnak province would be deployed in the region and the air support and bombing operations would continue. The government also plans to submit to Parliament a renewal of a resolution that allows cross-border operations. The current mandate expires on Oct.12.

The Turkish military have conducted over 25 cross-border operations so far, but they have been short-lived under pressure from allies and regional governments. Sources says that this time Turkey is determined to stay as long as needed to finish off the threat of terrorism originating in Northern Iraq. The MGK issued a written statement after a regular meeting on Thursday, saying it would adopt a “more effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.” The statement did not elaborate on what those measures would be, but sources say the government would adopt a multilateral approach in tackling the PKK, from deploying professional units in and outside of Turkey to increased intelligence gathering on the ground.

Challenged with increased terrorist activity, the Turkish government also believes a major assault against the PKK in Northern Iraq would not invite condemnation from allies, especially the US, at this stage. The US has already announced that it will stand with Turkey in its fight against terrorism. Drawing an analogy from Iranian operations in the Kandil region of Northern Iraq since last month, Ankara thinks the conjecture is ripe for a major push in the region to marginalize terrorist attacks waged by the PKK.

The council also urged everyone who believes in the parliamentary system and the rule of law, subtly referring to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has been a staunch supporter of the PKK, to distance itself from the separatist terrorist organization. The statement added that everyone must behave responsibly and sensitively, understanding that the fight against terrorism is a national matter.

The council also vowed that Turkey would never compromise on the principles of “one flag, one nation, one homeland and one state,” adding that Turkey will not tolerate anything that could harm the indivisible unity of the country and the unity and brotherhood of the people.

The MGK gathering on Thursday was significant in configuring what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an earlier unveiled as “the new era in the fight against terrorism.” The government has still not elaborated on the details and what kind of strategy it will endorse in its fight against terrorism in the face of increasingly deadly attacks by PKK members in the past few weeks.

However, the bombing of PKK camps by Turkish warplanes in northern Iraq and large-scale operations and raids in southeast Turkey have shown that the government has stepped up security as a response to terrorism. The MGK statement also said a more effective, decisive and result-based struggle will be endorsed in combating the violence, stressing that the acts of the terrorist organization will received the most solid response.

On Wednesday, the PKK attacked a military convoy in Çukurca in the southeastern province of Hakkari. The General Staff said nine soldiers and one member of the state-backed village guard militia were killed. Fifteen soldiers were wounded.

Last month, the PKK’s Abdullah Öcalan sent word through his lawyers that he had agreed with Turkish officials to set up a “peace council” aimed at ending the conflict. But the mood turned sour after the PKK subsequently killed 13 soldiers, the highest death toll for Turkish troops since the PKK ended a cease-fire in February.

State talks with Öcalan ended in late July and since then his lawyers have been unable to visit him on the island prison near ?stanbul where he is currently incarcerated. This week a court banned four lawyers from representing him for a year. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Thursday’s MGK meeting follows a period of upheaval in the armed forces. Four new commanders were appointed this month to replace those who resigned in protest at the jailing of hundreds of their colleagues in connection with anti-government conspiracies. The security council also reportedly discussed the situation in Syria and expressed grave concern over a growing death toll in a five-month uprising against the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad, stressing that violence and the use of force against the civilian population must be immediately stopped and called for the realization of democratic political change and transformation based on a definite timeframe in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

The MGK statement also urged Syrian authorities to guarantee freedom of expression, the freedom to hold peaceful demonstration and the freedom to organize political parties. The statement also said the MGK discussed the latest developments in Libya, Iraq and Somalia.


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