Turkey Threatens Major Iraq Incursion as Warplanes Hit PKK Bases

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Ahemet Davutoglu and Donald Tusk
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, and EU President Donald Tusk attend a joint press conference following their meeting in Ankara, on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Photographer: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a major ground offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq is possible as Turkish warplanes struck rebel bases across the border for a second day.

Turkey sent about 200 troops, including special forces, in hot pursuit of militants fleeing into Iraq after the killing of 16 Turkish soldiers on Sunday, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. Rebel attacks since then have also killed at least 15 police, and tensions have spread throughout the country, with Kurdish political parties attacked by angry crowds.

Davutoglu told AHaber television that troops are already crossing into northern Iraq when needed. He said no major offensive is under way yet, but “a comprehensive operation would start if needed, like in 2008.” That year, Turkey’s army conducted a week-long incursion with thousands of troops.

Turkey’s three-year truce with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy since the 1980s, has disintegrating -- another casualty of inconclusive elections in June that also roiled markets and darkened the outlook for the country’s $800 billion economy.

With a repeat vote scheduled for Nov. 1, the government has turned its fire on the main Kurdish political party, which achieved a breakthrough result in the June vote. It won enough support to enter parliament and strip the governing AK Party, currently led by Davutoglu but founded and guided by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of a majority it held for 12 years.

Under Curfew

The government accuses the Kurdish party of ties to the militants, and Kurdish politicians and activists have been detained as part of a nationwide security sweep. The army has targeted rebel holdouts in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast as well as across the border in Iraq.

The southeastern town of Cizre has been under curfew since Sept. 4, and intense clashes there have left as many as 32 militants dead, Interior Minister Selami Altinok said on Thursday. Authorities refused to allow a large delegation of Kurdish politicians to enter the town, where the militants have rigged barricades and ditches with explosives.

The PKK called on Thursday for Kurds across the country to take to the streets in solidarity with the people of Cizre.

Turkish markets have plunged amid the tensions. The lira has lost more than 8 percent against the dollar in the past month, though it halted the slide today and was little changed at 6:30 p.m. in Istanbul.

EU Help

Davutoglu, at a meeting with EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday, called for European Union help to target the financial assets of the PKK, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by the EU, Turkey and the U.S. The pair discussed “the PKK problem” as well as “efforts to put the peace process back on track,” Tusk said at a joint press conference in Ankara.

Turkish prosecutors opened a probe into Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the Kurdish political party in parliament, on charges of separatism and affronting the state, Anadolu reported Thursday. Demirtas can only face trial if parliament votes to lift his legal immunity, which would also need approval from the Justice Ministry.

Erdogan on Wednesday condemned attacks on the offices of Demirtas’s HDP group. They were targeted throughout the country this week, with the party headquarters in the capital, Ankara, set on fire.

Erdogan also accused officials from the Kurdish of not distancing themselves from the PKK. The president has said that the peace process, seen as one of his main achievements, can’t be revived unless the militants lay down their arms.

Davutoglu ordered regional governors to call in army reinforcements to fight militants or suppress riots whenever needed, the Hurriyet newspaper reported Thursday, citing unidentified military officials. The prime minister’s office didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Past Turkish military efforts to oust the group from its stronghold in the mountains of northern Iraq, most recently in 2008, haven’t succeeded.

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