Turkey hunts PKK rebels as Iraqi talks fail
( Reuters ) - Turkish military planes scoured the Iraqi border for Kurdish rebel camps on Saturday, army sources said, while diplomatic talks in Ankara to avert a major cross-border operation into northern Iraq failed.
Turkish-Iraqi talks collapsed on Friday evening after Ankara rejected a series of proposals offered by Iraqi Defence Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim to tackle Kurdish guerrillas as insufficient and taking too long to take effect.
Officials told Reuters that no further talks were planned on Saturday and the Iraqi delegation would leave around midday.
U.S. and Iraqi diplomatic efforts have been stepped up in recent days to try to dissuade NATO-member Turkey from launching a major cross-border operation against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels based in northern Iraq.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops on the frontier before a possible cross-border operation against about 3,000 PKK guerrillas using northern Iraq as a base from which to carry out deadly attacks in Turkey.
The United States opposes a major incursion into northern Iraq, fearing it could destabilise the relatively peaceful north of the country and potentially the wider region.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile played down comments from Turkey's top general that the military was waiting for Erdogan to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on Nov. 5 before launching a major incursion.
General Yasar Buyukanit was quoted by Turkish media on Friday as saying the meeting was very important and the military would hold off until Erodgan returned before a potential move.
Any major offensive would first have to be approved by the ruling AK Party government.
"I don't know what will happen before the American trip," Erdogan said in Istanbul on Friday evening.
"We are in a sensitive state all the time."
But under growing public pressure, Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey will not tolerate any more PKK attacks from northern Iraq. Some 40 people have been killed by the PKK in the last month, and in the latest major attack, the PKK also said it took eight soldiers prisoner.
Army sources told Reuters on Saturday that military planes were running reconnaissance trips along the mountainous border taking photographs of PKK camps in northern Iraq. Helicopters were patrolling villages and soldiers swept for mines.
The military has already carried out as many as 24 limited operations into northern Iraq to target the PKK but no major land incursion, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Friday.
Ankara had given Iraq a list of leading members of the PKK based in northern Iraq and demanded that Baghdad hands them over as well as shut down their numerous camps.
But the central Iraqi government has little control over northern Iraq, which is run by the Iraqi Kurdish regional government (KRG). The KRG, run by Masoud Barzani, says it has no control over the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation in the United States, Turkey and the European Union. Barzani has vowed to fight any Turkish incursion.
The PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in the southeast. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.