IRBIL, Iraq – The most senior leader in Iraq’s Kurdish region appeared to raise the stakes in the standoff over northern Iraq on Friday, warning Turkey that the region would defend itself against any cross-border strike on rebel bases.
The tough line taken by the Kurdish region’s president, Massoud Barzani, further stoked worries that a Turkish incursion could ignite a wider cycle of conflict and unrest in one of the few stable corners of Iraq.
Barzani said urgent talks were needed on all sides. But Turkey has flatly declared it is out of patience with escalating attacks by separatist guerrillas who use hideouts in northern Iraq.
As both Baghdad and Washington struggled to avert conflict, Turkey’s prime minister insisted that the camps of Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq must be destroyed and rebel leaders extradited to Turkey for trial.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has battled for more than two decades for autonomy in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast. The conflict has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
American officials have suggested the U.S. and Iraq may engage in joint action against the PKK. But Barzani had stern words for Turkey: “We are fully prepared to defend our democratic experience and the dignity of our people and the sanctity of our homeland.” Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday gave the government a one-year window in which to launch cross-border offensives against rebel strongholds in Iraq. The vote led to large-scale protests by Iraqi Kurds, calls for restraint by Baghdad and Washington, and uncertainty over Turkey’s next move – which has helped push oil prices to record highs.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to show restraint.