ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – With Turkey massing troops on its border with Iraq, a key leader of Kurdish separatists said a cross-border attack would be a "strategic mistake" and called for talks to end more than two decades of fighting.
Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, a senior official of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), said a strike into northern Iraq would unite Kurds on either side of the border against Turkey and bring Turkish troops face-to-face with U.S. forces stationed in northern Iraq.
Rumors of a possible Turkish incursion into neighboring, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq have rattled financial markets and have drawn warnings from the United States, Ankara’s NATO ally, to stay out.
"This would be a strategic mistake with profound implications for the Middle East," Chaderchi told Reuters by telephone from a mountain base in northern Iraq on Monday.
"An attack (into northern Iraq) would unite all the Kurds in the Middle East and elsewhere."
Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria all have sizeable Kurdish minorities.
"Turkey has failed in the past to crush the PKK. We have made an offer of a ceasefire and we stand by that. But the Turkish government is not interested in peace," Chaderchi said.
Turkey’s armed forces have urged its government to allow an incursion to crush up to 4,000 PKK militants who use the region as a base to attack security and civilian targets inside Turkey.
The PKK, outlawed in Turkey and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 in a struggle for autonomy that has killed more than 30,000 people.
Clashes have continued despite a PKK unilateral ceasefire first declared in September 2006 and renewed several times since. Last week, a Turkish human rights organization said 225 people had been killed in fighting between the PKK and Turkish security forces in the first half of this year alone.
Two more Turkish soldiers died in a clash with Kurdish separatist rebels during a military offensive in southeast Turkey, a regional governor’s office said on Tuesday.
Chaderchi described Turkey’s military build-up along the border with Iraq as unprecedented in the number of men and heavy weapons, including tanks, artillery and aircraft.
Last week, security sources in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, just across the border, told Reuters the Turkish army had boosted troop levels in the area to more than 200,000. Iraq’s government, which has urged dialogue to resolve the growing tension, has put the number at 140,000.
The Turkish troop movemen’s come against the backdrop of a bitterly contested campaign for parliamentary elections on Sunday which has triggered an upsurge in nationalism and could strengthen those who demand stronger action against the PKK.
Turkey has launched several major anti-guerrilla operations into Iraq since the conflict with the PKK began.