Turkey's prime minister said his country could stage an incursion into northern Iraq if talks with Iraq and the United States after Sunday's general elections fail to produce effective measures against Kurdish guerrillas there, media reports said Friday.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was expected to visit Turkey after the elections to discuss Turkey's demand that Baghdad crack down on guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq.
"Anything can happen. (Military operation) could come on to the agenda," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a TV show on private ATV channel Thursday night, when he was asked whether a cross-border offensive would be considered after the elections.
"Whatever is necessary could be done immediately. We are capable enough to do it," Erdogan said of a possible incursion into northern Iraq, which he said the rebel group was using to launch attacks on Turkey.
Erdogan's ruling party is likely to win a majority of seats in parliamentary elections Sunday. Opposition parties have criticized his government for not showing determination to stage an incursion into Iraq - a move that could seriously strain ties with both Iraq and the U.S.
"After the elections, we will see him (al-Maliki) here and hold trilateral talks (including U.S. officials). We have to get the result we expected here. Otherwise, we will decide on the method of dealing with this with relevant institutions," Erdogan said.
Turkey has massed troops on the Iraqi border, and threatened to move into northern Iraq unless Iraq and the United States crack down on the PKK, listed by Washington as a terrorist organization. Iraq complained Wednesday that Turkish artillery and warplanes bombarded areas of northern Iraq, and called on Turkey to stop military operations and enter dialogue.
The government needs to endorse Parliament's approval for any cross-border operation. And at least two other parties, the Republican People's Party and Nationalist Action Party, which are expected to win seats in Sunday's elections, strongly favor an incursion.
The issue of how to deal with the PKK has been one of the key campaign topics of all major parties, with opposition parties favoring a tougher stand and almost all rejecting dialogue with Kurdish lawmakers _ who are expected to return to Parliament in Sunday's elections for the first time since the 1990s _ unless they denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, is running all of its candidates as independents with the aim of circumventing a 10-percent vote threshold required for parties to win representation in Parliament. The lawmakers would then regroup under the party banner after the election.
In the 1990s, several Kurdish lawmakers were ejected from Parliament for having ties to Kurdish rebels.
One of those lawmakers, Leyla Zana, made even more inflammatory remarks Friday, calling on Turkey to declare the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast as "Kurdistan" in a federal structure and grant amnesty to Kurdish guerrillas, media reports said.
"Ankara, divide the country into states and establish the state of Kurdistan," Hurriyet newspaper quoted Zana as saying during an election rally in the eastern city of Igdir.
Zana's statement, which is likely to trigger fierce reaction from nationalists, was also carried by pro-Kurdish news agencies. Zana spent more than a decade in prison after speaking Kurdish in Parliament in 1991, in breach of a ban on speaking the language in official setting.
Erdogan, whose government has come under pressure from furious Turks who chanted anti-rebel and sometimes anti-government slogans during the funerals of more than 70 soldiers so far this year, has also ruled out cooperation with the Kurdish lawmakers unless they declared the PKK a terrorist group.
On the street there is enormous support for a cross-border operation especially among young nationalist Turks, but some others fear an incursion could drag Turkey into war.
"I will never support an incursion, don't they realize that staging an offensive would mean going to war with Iraq?" said Sukru Taner, a 47-year-old taxi driver. "We should try to finish off the PKK inside our borders first."