ISTANBUL (AFP)–The head of the Turkish army criticized the United States Wednesday for failing to curb Turkish Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq and warned that Iraqi Kurdish attempts to take control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk could throw the entire region into turmoil.
General Hilmi Ozkok–the chief of general staff–complained in a yearly evaluation speech that Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was gaining influence in northern Iraq and stepping up attacks across the border on Turkey because of US failure to take action against the rebels.
"The terror group has been included in the list of terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union–but that does not carry a meaning in practice," Ozkok said.
"It is thought-provoking that no action has been taken yet against the organization. The PKK must at any rate be deprived of foreign support and have its hope of success crushed," he said.
Turkey says about 5,000 PKK militants have found refuge in the mountains of neighboring northern Iraq since 1999–when the group declared a unilateral ceasefire with Ankara in its armed campaign for self-rule in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
The group called off the truce last year–raising tensions in the region.
Ozkok also expressed concern over attempts by Iraqi Kurds to seize the ethnically volatile city of Kirkuk–which–he said–with its large oil resources–should belong to all Iraqis and not just one ethnic group.
"That is why it is important for Kirkuk to have a special status," Ozkok said. "We have said several times that Kirkuk is a problem area ready to explode …and that it would affect the entire region if it explodes."
Turkey suspects Iraqi Kurds of planning to capitalize on their post-war gains to make Kirkuk the capital of an independent Kurdish state.
Such a state–Ankara fears–would fuel separatism among the restive Kurds of adjoining southeastern Turkey–sparking regional turmoil.