( Reuters ) - Turkey's General Staff vowed on Friday to respond as it saw fit to attacks by Kurdish militants amid heightened speculation it may launch a major incursion into Northern Iraq to crush rebels hiding there.
In a statement on its Web site, the General Staff referred to army chief General Yasar Buyukanit's comments in April calling on the government to let troops enter Northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels based there.
"The Turkish Armed Forces have an unshakeable determination to fight terrorism and it is an incontrovertible reality that we will respond to these kind of attacks," it said, alluding to PKK strikes on civilian and military targets in Turkey.
Turkey has been increasingly exasperated by PKK attacks on its soil and by the failure of its U.S. allies to tackle an estimated 4,000 rebels holed up in Iraq, despite repeated pleas. It has sent more tanks and troops to the border region.
On Monday, seven paramilitary police were killed when PKK rebels attacked their headquarters in Tunceli province in eastern Turkey in the deadliest single strike in about a year. Four more soldiers were killed in an incident on Thursday.
In May, eight people were killed when a suicide bomber the authorities said was a PKK supporter struck a shopping mall in Ankara, Turkey's normally secure capital.
"The time has come to see the real nature of these incidents," said the General Staff statement, attacking unspecified individuals and organizations it said used notions of democracy and freedom as a "screen" to defend terrorism.
The comments appeared especially aimed at the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join. The army has said EU-inspired reforms have hampered its efforts to combat terrorism.
The statement also indirectly lambasted liberals favoring more rights for Turkey's ethnic minorities such as the Kurds, saying they undermined the security and unity of the nation.
The army statement helped knock Turkey's lira currency about 1 percent lower. Turkish stocks also fell.
Analysts say a full-blown army incursion into Northern Iraq is still unlikely, given the political and diplomatic as well as security risks, but as elections loom in July both the military and the government are under public pressure to get tough.
The analysts say it also suits the military to play up the security threat as it draws public attention to the government's failure to defeat the PKK after nearly five years in power.
The army generals are part of Turkey's secular elite which deeply distrusts Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government. In May, the secularists forced Erdogan to call an election months early after a row over the Turkey's presidency.
Friday's statement urged Turks to show a "mass resistance reflex" to the PKK attacks, in an apparent call for popular rallies of the kind staged last month against the government by its secularist opponents.
Parliament, now in recess, would have to reconvene to authorize any major military operation in Iraq.
The army has banned land and air travel between Iraq and three Turkish provinces as part of its security measures.
A military source said on Wednesday the army had staged a limited "hot pursuit" operation across the border earlier this week. Neither the General Staff nor the government confirmed the raid, though such strikes are known to take place sometimes.
Ankara blames the PKK for more than 30,000 deaths since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.