ANKARA (AFP) –The United States has warned Turkey that a cross-border operation against Kurdish bases in northern Iraq would be "unwise," drawing angry accusations from Ankara that Washington is using double standards in the region.
"We have repeatedly said that we believe that unilateral military action across the border with Iraq would be unwise," the US amabassador to Turkey–Ross Wilson–said in an interview with the NTV news channel.
He was speaking after Ankara on Monday urged Washington and Baghdad to act against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)–whose militants have enjoyed safe haven in the mountains of northern Iraq–signaling that it is ready to take cross-border action if they fail to do so.
Ankara says the PKK–listed as a terrorist group by Turkey–the United States and the European union–uses bases in northern Iraq as a springboard to launch attacks in adjoining southeast Turkey.
It has made clear that its patience is running out after rebel attacks claimed the lives of 15 security force members over the past week.
"The PKK is not a just a northern Iraq problem — it’s a problem in Europe and it’s a problem in Turkey," Wilson said.
"Going to deal with the PKK in northern Iraq will not solve the problem," he said. "It will not lead to what we or Iraq or Turkey want to see–which is the termination of these terrorist activities and the termination of the death and suffering that the people of Turkey have faced."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly hit back–highlighting Washington’s support for Israeli military offensives against militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
"Terrorism is terrorism everywhere," Erdogan said in Istanbul. "It is not possible to agree with a mentality that tolerates country A and displays a different attitude when it comes to country B."
Dismissing the ambassador’s warning–Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would be prepared to conduct cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and hinted that contingency plans were already being drawn up.
"At the end of the day–we know how to take care of our problems," he said. "The competent authorities are working accordingly… We keep ourselves ready against possible developmen’s."
The United States’ failure to crack down on the PKK has often poisoned its ties with Turkey–a key Muslim ally in the Middle East–and has been blamed as a prime reason for growing anti-US sentiment among Turks.
At least 87 PKK members and 51 members of the security forces have died this year in southeast Turkey–according to an AFP count.
Kurdish militants also claimed responsibility for 11 bomb attacks in urban centers–in which nine people were killed and nearly 140 injured.
Wilson said Washington had achieved "some success" in disrupting the flow of funds financing the PKK’s armed campaign and pledged continued support.
The United States–he said–is discussing both with the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional authorities in the north "the need to take action to curb PKK activities and their apparent freedom to maneuver and operate."
Washington is ready "to continue and make more effective US-Turkish collaboration in Iraq to cut off funding–apprehend PKK leaders who are operating there and shut down PKK front groups," Wilson said.
Washington has been unwilling to take action against the PKK in northern Iraq–arguing that Iraqi and coalition forces are swamped with violence in other parts of the country and that military operations could upset the relative stability of the Kurdish-populated region.