ANKARA (AFP)–Turkey paraded its military muscle Monday, amid stern warnings from Baghdad that any large-scale Turkish incursion against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq would have "disastrous" results.
In the capital Ankara, tanks and rocket launchers were on display in the annual national day parade as Turks celebrated the 84th anniversary of the secular republic’s creation by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In stark contrast to the festive mood across most of the country, Turkish troops faced off with some 100 Kurds in the Ikiyaka mountains in the southeast.
The military had surrounded the fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a bid to prevent them from escaping across the Iraqi border, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Witnesses saw helicopter gun-ships pounding suspected PKK positions in mountainous areas on the Turkish side.
Turkey has threatened a major cross-border assault on PKK bases in northern Iraq if Baghdad and Washington fail to make good on promises to crack down on the rebels there.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned Monday that such a move could have "disastrous consequences" and would be met with stiff Iraqi resistance.
"They are talking about a large-scale military incursion which is getting people extremely, extremely nervous and worried," Zebari told the BBC in an interview.
Describing the increasingly tense situation on the Turkish-Iraqi border as "dead serious," Zebari complained that Turkey "was not responsive" when Iraqi officials flew to Ankara last week for talks on how to resolve the situation.
According to Turkish media reports, some 100,000 Turkish troops have been deployed along the Iraqi border over the past week.
Zebari also insisted that Turkish deman’s for PKK leaders in northern Iraq to be rounded up and handed over were unrealistic.
"They are not under our control. They are up in the mountains, they are armed," he said.
National red-and-white, crescent and star flags flew across Turkey for Monday’s celebrations, which saw President Abdullah Gul lead top officials on the traditional trek to Ataturk’s imposing mausoleum on a hill overlooking Ankara.
The PKK, considered a terrorist group by much of the international community, has struggled against Turkish oppression in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Several cities witnessed anti-PKK protests, which have been held on a daily basis since October 21, the day 12 Turkish soldiers were killed and eight taken prisoner in a PKK ambush near the Iraqi border.
The army has reported killing more than 60 members of the PKK since, but has yet to confirm media reports Sunday that another 15 were killed in fighting in eastern Tunceli province.
Talks between Turkey and Iraq in Ankara collapsed on Friday.
Ankara had asked Baghdad to submit "concrete proposals" for dealing with the rebels, but said it found the Iraqi offers "unsatisfactory," if "well-intentioned."
Turkey will launch a military operation "when it deems necessary," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday.
Erdogan and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are to meet here Thursday in a further bid to settle the crisis through diplomacy.
The culminating point of diplomatic efforts will likely come on November 5, when Erdogan is scheduled to meet US President George W. Bush at the White House.
It will be the first meeting between the two since Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party won snap elections on July 22.
Washington wants to avoid destabilizing the relatively peaceful north of Iraq, administered by its Iraqi Kurd allies, but NATO-member Turkey, traditionally the closest US supporter in the region, says it has reached the limits of its patience.
General Yasar Buyukanit, the chief of Turkey’s general staff, said it was unlikely that any military operation would take place before the Erdogan-Bush talks.