( AP ) - Turkey said Wednesday that it had taken economic measures designed to weaken Kurdish rebels and groups that support it, a step that could affect the economy in the self-governing Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.
Although the Turkish government did not use the term "sanctions," its statement was widely interpreted as the beginning of a strategy to cut off economic support for suspected associates of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which carries out raids in Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.
An important question is whether Turkey will decide that the Iraqi Kurdish government, which has not moved against the Turkish Kurd guerrillas, should be subject to economic penalties. Such action against the Iraqi Kurds - staunch allies of the United States - could disrupt fitful development in their relatively peaceful region, which is considered one of the few success stories in Iraq.
"Military, political, diplomatic and economic measures are being taken simultaneously," Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said after a Cabinet meeting. "The targets of these measures are the terrorist organization and those groups which are supporting, aiding and abetting it."
Cicek gave no details on the economic measures, which opened a new front in Turkey's campaign against the PKK since the rebel group escalated attacks in recent weeks. Turkey is conducting intense military operations within its borders against the group and is poised for a cross-border offensive into Iraq, while its diplomats are urging Iraq and the United States to crack down on the rebels.
Iraqi Kurdistan has relied heavily on Turkish food imports as well as Turkish investment in construction works and Turkish electricity, which accounts for 10 percent of its power use. The border crisis is already taking its toll, with commercial flights between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan reportedly canceled and some Turkish companies scaling back or delaying investment plans there.
Iraqi Kurdistan also trades with neighboring Syria and Iran.
Cicek said Turkey would be careful in its application of the economic measures to avoid causing the innocent to suffer.
"Neither people living on the other side of the border, nor our people who are earning their livings thanks to that border, should suffer hardship as a result of these precautions," he said. "Other measures we have taken, including the economic ones, will be in line with this sensitivity."
The Cabinet was acting on a recommendation by the National Security Council, which said the government should "take necessary economic measures against those groups directly or indirectly supporting the separatist terrorist organization in the region."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested Massoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region, is assisting the Turkish Kurd rebels.
"He is in a position of aiding and abetting the terrorist organization in that region," Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying.
Turkey fears that Iraqi Kurds could set up an independent Kurdish state, which could in turn fuel separatist sentiment among Turkish Kurds.
The possibility of sanctions has led to increased border traffic as merchants rush to get their goods across before the imposition of any restrictions, customs authorities said.
About 1,000 trucks a day pass through the Habur Border Gate, the only vehicular route between Iraq and Turkey. Between 50 and 100 extra trucks per day have passed through in recent days, the customs agent in charge of registering the trucks told AP Television News.
Turkey has also complained that European countries are not doing enough to crack down on fundraising by PKK sympathizers in the Kurdish diaspora in Europe.