The Turkish army is to launch a cross-border operation against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq before ‘weather conditions worsen,’ local media quoted the Turkish president as saying on Wednesday.
“The time for the carrying out of the operation is approaching. The operation will begin before the weather conditions worsen, [before] winter,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by the Zaman newspaper as saying.
Commentators say the prime minister’s remarks indicate that the operation could start in the very near future, although Erdogan has yet to provide a time frame.
However, the president of Iraq said on Wednesday that the crisis on the Iraqi-Turkish border “is effectively over”.
In an interview with the Cairo-based Al-Ahram weekly newspaper, Jalal Talabani said that an Iraqi delegation at a recent conference in Istanbul had managed to convince the Turkish leadership that Baghdad was “fighting against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)” based in northern Iraq.
“We have agreed to limit their movements and banned them from moving from one city to another, as well as from using airports,” the Iraqi leader said, adding that there was no threat of a Turkish invasion of Kurdistan.
Four Turkish servicemen, including an officer, died and at least nine soldiers were wounded in clashes with Kurdish separatists in southeast Turkey on Tuesday.
Turkish NTV television said the troops suffered casualties during a special operation in the Sirnak province.
In mid-October, Turkey’s parliament sanctioned military cross-border operations against PKK separatists following an earlier government request and despite opposition from Washington and Baghdad.
Turkish media also reported a number of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish outposts and bases near Zakhu, an Iraqi Kurdish town near the border with Turkey.
The PKK, labeled by the U.S., NATO and the EU as a terrorist organization, has been fighting for autonomy status in southeast Turkey for nearly 25 years. The conflict has so far claimed about 40,000 lives.
80 Kurdish militants and over 50 soldiers have been killed in sporadic clashes near the border with Iraq since September.
Last week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul stressed that Ankara has no plans to occupy Iraq.
“Our goal is to wipe out the terrorist PKK. We respect Iraq’s territorial integrity and stability. The PKK threatens not only Turkey, but also stability in Iraq,” he said.