The Turkish government would authorize a military cross-border operation into northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish PKK rebels if required, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late Tuesday.
"We are continuing discussions with the armed forces. If needed we will take the necessary steps (for a cross-border operation) because we cannot allow the PKK any longer to carry out attacks," Erdogan told Reuters in an interview aboard his plane while campaigning in eastern Turkey.
Asked whether he believed Iraqi and U.S. authorities would honor promises to combat the PKK, Erdogan -- speaking via an interpreter -- gave a lukewarm response: "I wish to remain positive."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Sunday with Turkey's envoy to Baghdad, Derya Kanbay, telling Kanbay that Iraq would "forbid all PKK activities" in response to renewed urgency from Ankara on the terror group's actions in the region. Maliki also reportedly accepted an invitation to Ankara for face-to-face talks with Prime Minister Erdogan, though the meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Following talks with visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had cited the need for the US, Turkey, and Iraq to "accelerate the work" of the trilateral mechanism established to address the PKK problem, though it's unclear what work the commission has done in the more than nine months since its inception.
Rice said of her meeting with Zebari:
"We discussed the importance of not allowing Iraqi territory to be used for acts of terrorism against neighbors, in this case, particularly against Turkey. We discussed the importance of the trilateral security mechanism that Iraq, the United States and Turkey instituted some time ago and the importance of accelerating the work of that mechanism because the Iraqis do not want -- and we do not want -- their territory to be used for terrorist acts against their neighbor," Rice explained.
Zebari, who is very close to Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, said one day earlier in an interview with CNN.
"We have a forum to resolve these (PKK-related) issues. We have a tripartite commission: the United States, Iraq and Turkey," he said. "This commission was created in the first place to address Turkey's legitimate security concern over the PKK. So far, this commission has not been activated."
The trilateral mechanism was created last year in the wake of increased PKK attacks against Turkish targets when Washington appointed retired general Joseph Ralston, a former NATO supreme commander, as its special envoy for countering the PKK. Turkey and Iraq also named their own envoys, but the process has gone nowhere amid controversy over Kurdish representation in the commission.
The United States, Turkey and Iraq have all appointed envoys to take part in the commission, but Washington, Baghdad and Iraqi Kurds are seeking to add at least one Iraqi Kurdish regional government official to the process.
Turkey objects to the participation of Iraqi Kurds in the commission as long as their backing of the PKK continues. Ankara is also reluctant to see a representative of the Kurdish regional government, which it does not recognize, as an interlocutor in the Iraqi team.
The Ankara government fired in May the increasingly frustrated Turkish envoy, Edip Başer, when he began to vocally criticize the trilateral mechanism. Baser was replaced by senior diplomat Rafet Akgünay.
Ralston has congratulated Akgünay on his new job, but the two men have not met personally, and it is not clear when Ralston's next visit to the region will take place. "We're looking for a window of opportunity for this visit," said one U.S. official.
"The trilateral process is effectively dead, and it's very hard to revive it after this point," said Bülent Alirıza, director of Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank here.
According to Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, speaking Tuesday at the Second Istanbul Democracy and Global Security Conference, took the opportunity to criticize Iraqi inaction on the PKK problem.
"We are witnessing a big increase in activities by the this terror group in both provincial areas and cities. Figures show us that these attacks are the result of the terror group taking refuge in the north of Iraq, and of the fact that there is nothing preventing them from attacking Turkey from there."Gul aimed criticism at the Iraq authority for not doing as much as they could to prevent PKK activity, noting:
"The saddening point here is that while Turkey has done everything it could to ensure security, prosperity, and stability in Iraq, Iraqi authorities have not shown any effort to prevent PKK activities from taking place on their own soil."
Gul reiterated that while "Turkey does not have its eyes on anyone else's soil," Ankara had certain expectations when it came to patrolling and controlling the border area between Iraq and Turkey.
A decision by a Turkish state prosecutor to open an investigation on Monday into Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, has dismayed Iraqi Kurdish authorities, but the New Anatolian reports Kurdish leaders have made a policy decision not to react to Turkish moves and leave it to the Baghdad government to do the talking on their behalf.