LONDON (AFP)–A senior commander of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) warned the Turkish government against sending its military forces into northern Iraq, in an interview published Monday.
Speaking to The Guardian daily from a hideout in the Qandil mountains on the Iraq-Iran border, Cemil Bayik said that while his units were not seeking a fight, the Turkish army faced "a political and military disaster" if it crosses into Iraq as part of an offensive against the PKK.
A Turkish incursion into Iraq could become "a quagmire for them (the Turkish army) and create space for Iran to interfere in Iraq also," Bayik told the newspaper.
Bayik also accused the Turkish army’s chief of staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, of using the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq as a reason to "annihilate Kurdishness."
"General Buyukanit wants everyone to be a happy Turk. And those who don’t agree he bran’s as a traitor. He wants first to smash the Kurdish regional government in Iraq," Bayik said.
"He wants second to ruin any chances of a referendum being held on Kirkuk, and the PKK issue is really only third on his list of priorities."
Bayik also contested the classification of the PKK as a terrorist organization, insisting the group condemned attacks on civilians, and were "freedom fighters."
"We are not looking for independence. We are not even looking for federalism like the Iraqi Kurds have. The solution lies in granting the Kurds of Turkey language and cultural rights and freedom of speech," he said.
He added that he would work to better convince the international community of his group’s peaceful commitment to resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey.
In Diyarbekir, Turkey, state prosecutors opened an investigation on Monday into Masoud Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, whom Ankara suspects of supporting Turkish Kurds.
The probe coincides with a buildup of Turkish troops and tanks in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey amid speculation that they may stage a major incursion into northern Iraq to hit PKK bases located there.
A Turkish nationalist organization asked prosecutors in Diyarbekir, the largest city of Turkey’s southeast, to open the probe into the accusations over the PKK, and called for the seizure of any assets, including property and bank accounts, that Barzani may own in Turkey.
Barzani once had good ties with Ankara, but these have deteriorated sharply in recent months after he used harsh language to criticize Turkey’s approach to Iraq’s Kurds and said there could be no question of his forces tackling the PKK.
Ankara is anxious to prevent the emergence of an Iraqi Kurdish state in northern Iraq, fearing this could fan separatism among its own large Kurdish population in southeast Turkey and also destabilize the broader region.
Turkey, which faces elections next month, says it has the right under international law to send troops into Iraq to crush the PKK if U.S. and Iraqi forces fail to act.
On Monday, three PKK members were killed in a firefight with Turkish troops in Siirt province in southeast Turkey. Separately, three Turkish soldiers were hurt when their vehicle hit a landmine in nearby Tunceli province. PKK attacks on civilian and security targets in Turkey have increased over the past few months, putting more pressure on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to get tough with the rebels.
Turkish media said on Monday Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would visit Ankara this month at Erdogan’s request to discuss the security situation in northern Iraq.