As the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) prepares to present a motion to parliament authorizing the deployment of Turkish troops in a cross-border military operation against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq, the organization is stepping up the pressure inside Turkey.
On the evening of October 10, one policeman was killed and six people wounded, including two policemen, when a suspected PKK militant lobbed a hand grenade into a tailor’s store frequented by members of the security forces in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir (Hurriyet, Sabah, Milliyet, October 11). The attack took place in one of the shantytowns that surround the city, where high levels of poverty and social alienation have made them fertile recruiting grounds for the PKK (see EDM, October 9).
Earlier on October 10 security forces discovered and defused an improvised explosive device (IED) hidden under a carriage of a passenger train traveling from Kars, in eastern Turkey, to Istanbul. The design of the IED was very similar to others used by the PKK in its bombing campaign in western Turkey and was based around A4 explosives with a detonating device attached to a cell phone (Sabah, Vatan, October 11).
In early October the Turkish police arrested three suspected PKK militants whom they claimed had been sent from the PKK’s camps in northern Iraq to Istanbul in order to carry out bombings in the city (Vatan, October 9).
In the run-up to the July 22 Turkish general election, the PKK scaled back its offensive operations inside Turkey, apparently for fear that the public outcry from a high death toll during an election campaign would force the government to authorize a cross-border military operation into northern Iraq. However, the organization no longer appears to be so concerned.
The suspected PKK militants arrested in Istanbul are believed to have set out from the organization’s camps in northern Iraq in late September, well before the killing of 15 Turkish soldiers within 24 hours on October 7-8 that led to Turkey initiating preparations for a cross-border operation (see EDM, October 10). However, the IED on the train is believed to have been concealed either on the evening of October 9 or in the early morning of October 10. Unlike in western Turkey, where PKK militants often operate for long periods without making contact with their superiors, the organization has a substantial presence in Diyarbakir and would be able to call off any attack at very short notice. As a result, there has been speculation in the Turkish press that the PKK is not only no longer concerned about the prospect of a cross-border military operation but is even trying to provoke one, either because it believes that the Turkish troops would become bogged down in the mountains or because it is confident that the international community, particularly the United States, would intervene to block any military operation before it could do any damage (Vatan, October 11).
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to present a motion to parliament as soon as the legislature reconvenes on October 15 after a three-day religious holiday to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Erdogan has indicated that the motion will authorize Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq at any time over the next 12 months. However, there is still no indication as to whether a cross-border operation will be launched (CNNTurk, NTV, October 10-11).
Much is expected to depend on the attitude of the United States. On October 10 the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a motion recognizing the killing of Ottoman Armenians as genocide, provoking widespread public outrage in Turkey. Earlier on October 10, tens of thousands of Turks marched in anti-PKK demonstrations across Turkey. Significantly, many of them carried placards attacking the U.S. for its repeated opposition to any Turkish military operation against the PKK camps in northern Iraq. In the wake of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s approval of the Armenian resolution, such anti-American sentiments are expected to rise still further. In the immediate aftermath of the committee’s vote, several prominent Turkish newspapers asked whether it represented the end of the alliance between Turkey and the United States (Hurriyet, Vatan, October 11).
Some Turkish commentators have speculated that, in order to try to placate Turkey and ensure that the country can still used as a conduit to supply U.S. troops in Iraq, the Bush administration may be less than inclined than before to oppose limited Turkish military action against the PKK camps (CNNTurk, NTV, October 11).