ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Ã¢â‚¬â€ Turkey’s military, which began staging several “large-scale” attacks on separatist Kurdish rebels in the country’s southeast, asked the government Thursday for approval to launch a cross-border incursion into northern Iraq.
“An operation into Iraq is necessary,” Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said, pushing for permission to raid northern Iraq to fight Kurdish guerrillas despite strong opposition from the United States and Iraq against such unilateral action.
The call raises the pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take a harder line against Kurdish guerrillas and against the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq, where the rebels are based and train.
Buyukanit said the military already was moving against separatists in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern region bordering Iraq.
“There are several large-scale operations underway in several areas,” Buyukanit told reporters. “Our aim is to prevent them from taking positions in the region with the coming of spring.”
He said the rebels generally intensify their attacks on Turkey as the snow melts, opening up mountain passes.
Clashes already have killed 10 soldiers and 29 Kurdish guerrillas in recent fighting, Buyukanit said. The separatist conflict has left more than 37,000 people dead since 1984.
On Monday, the Turkish government demanded that U.S. and Iraqi officials crack down on guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, running their rebellion from hideouts in the predominantly Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
“The PKK has huge freedom of movement in Iraq,” Buyukanit said. “It has spread its roots in Iraq.”
But Iraq’s government is barely able to control its own cities. U.S. commanders, who are battling the Iraqi insurgency in the middle of the country, are stretched too thin to take on Turkish Kurds hiding in remote mountains near the frontier.
Washington repeatedly has cautioned Turkey against staging a cross-border offensive, fearing that it could destabilize the region and antagonize Iraqi Kurds, who are allied with the U.S.
However, Turkey has asserted its right to stage a cross-border offensive if Iraqi officials fail to clamp down on the guerrillas.