Turkey set to defy US and hunt Kurdish rebels
By Gethin Chamberlain, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:43am BST 29/07/2007
Turkey's newly elected government is prepared to turn its back on its long-standing alliance with the United States to counter the threat of Kurdish terrorism, one of the closest allies of the prime minister has warned.
Egemen Bagis, foreign policy advisor to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkish forces were prepared to mount operations against Kurdish PKK fighters who had taken refuge in Iraq, because the US had failed to intervene.
"We are hoping we will not have to do it. We are hoping that our allies will start doing something, but if they don't we don't have many options," he said.
"Our allies should help us with the threat, which is clear and present. If an ally is not helping you, you either question their integrity or their ability."
A decision to sanction military action might also help to avert a potential clash between the new government and Turkey's powerful army, which is unhappy with what it regards as creeping Islamisation. Last weekend's elections were precipitated by the army's opposition to the AK party's choice of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister, as its presidential candidate. The generals regard Mr Gul's Islamic roots - and his wife's preference for wearing a headscarf - as a threat to Turkey's traditional secularism.
But on the back of its landslide victory, the AK believes that it now has the democratic mandate to force through his election in the 550-member parliament, which is due to convene for the first time this week.
"I think we can declare Mr Gul as the next president of Turkey," Mr Bagis told The Sunday Telegraph. "He will make a great president."
Turkey's generals want to go after the Kurdish terrorist group because of a sudden upsurge in attacks, many from across the Iraqi border, and there has been a steady Turkish military build-up on the frontier between the two countries.
Mr Bagis said the US must appreciate that Turkey was prepared to go into Iraq, even if such a move put it on collision course with Washington, which is desperate not to destabilise the Kurdish region of Iraq.
"We would not hesitate for a second and we would not ask anyone's permission," he said.
Washington has made clear to the Turkish government that any military incursion would be unacceptable, but the Turks are in no mood for compromise.
A poll last week by the US-based Pew organisation found that 72 per cent of Turks regarded terrorism as the key issue facing the country. The same poll showed that only 9 per cent of Turks had a positive view of the US, with more than three quarters concerned that the Americans could pose a military threat to their country. Many Turks believe that the US has been supporting the Kurds.
More than 40,000 Turks have died in the 30-year war with the PKK and 76 soldiers have been killed this year alone, the latest in a clash in northeast Turkey on Friday. Mourners have shouted anti-US slogans at recent funerals.
"We are telling our allies that their image is going down," Mr Bagis said.
"Support for US foreign policy in Turkey is at an all time low.
"The US and the UK must understand that you guys took extra measures in the aftermath of 9/11 and the London bombs and we have lost many more lives."
Nejat Eslen, a retired general, said the military was losing patience with its American allies.
"The US crossed the Atlantic in the name of fighting terror in Iraq an Afghanistan. Turkey is helping the US in Afghanistan. And yet it doesn't allow Turkey, a Nato ally, to cross its own border for the same reasons. What sort of a friendship is this? This is how enemies behave."