"Our anger is great," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the shocking assault, which came only days after Parliament passed a motion authorizing a cross-border operation into northern Iraq to hunt down PKK terrorists based in mountain camps in the area. He said the government would take "an approach that is calm, far from agitation and based on common sense." Commenting on a possible cross-border operation into northern Iraq, Erdoğan said, "We will take all necessary steps within the framework of the [parliamentary] authorization," adding, "We have no concerns about who says what."
Labor Minister Faruk Çelik said the latest developments "will make us implement sharper measures." In Kiev, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, speaking after a meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said Turkey has plans to launch a cross-border operation but "not urgently."
"Our grief is very deep," said Gül, who cut short a visit to his hometown of Kayseri to chair the crisis meeting at the presidential palace. Gül, who is due to meet separately with leaders of political parties today for talks, said it was Turkey's right to take action to destroy the PKK if Iraq fails to take action to that effect, but also called for "wisdom" in the fight against terror and warned that feelings of unity and solidarity must be kept strong while terrorism is being countered.
A group of PKK terrorists infiltrated Turkish territory from northern Iraq and attacked a military unit from three different directions just after midnight near Dağlıca Village in the province of Hakkari, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet, according to a statement from the General Staff. A total of 32 terrorists were killed as the military responded to the attack, and clashes are ongoing, the statement said. The statement also hinted that a hot pursuit of the terrorists across the border with Iraq was under way, saying troops were chasing after the PKK members, following them on their escape routes. Some 63 suspected PKK targets were being shelled, the statement said, without explaining whether these targets were in Turkey or Iraq.
News reports said the terrorist group comprised as many as 250 armed terrorists, something which, if verified, shows the attack was one of the boldest the PKK has launched in its history.
State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, speaking after a one-and-a-half-hour security meeting chaired by Erdoğan at the Prime Ministry, said military units have encircled a group of terrorists and were shelling suspected sites. In response to a question on whether the Turkish shelling targeted PKK positions across the border in Iraq, Çiçek said, “Whatever is necessary in this struggle is being done and will be done.”
The meeting was attended by Interior Minister Beşir Atalay, Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Işık Koşaner, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Emre Taner, Police Director-General Oğuz Kaan Köksal and Interior Ministry Undersecretary Şehabettin Harput.
Earlier reports said the PKK terrorists blew up a bridge as a military convoy of 12 trucks was passing over it. In a statement carried by the Fırat news agency, the mouthpiece of the PKK, the terrorist group said it was holding hostage several soldiers. Reports quoted PKK members as saying that the soldiers were being kept in Turkey, not in Iraq. Defense Minister Gönül, speaking after meeting Gates, said there were “no hostages” being held by the PKK. Çiçek declined to comment on a relevant question. “It is not possible to make an overall statement since the clashes are still under way,” he said.
An intelligence source speaking to Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity said 10 to 12 soldiers were revealed to have been missing in a headcount after the attack. The source added it was not clear whether they ran away in panic or had been kidnapped.
Sources also noted that there was no telephone connection communication between the unit attacked and other units for about one-and-a-half hours after the attack.
In a separate incident, 17 civilians were injured when a bomb exploded as a minibus passed near Dağlıca, news reports said. The victims were taken to hospitals in nearby provinces.
Countdown to cross-border operation
The latest attacks significantly increased pressure on the government to order a cross-border operation into northern Iraq to hit the PKK camps after protracted appeals to the United States and Iraq to crack down on the terrorist group.
So far, the United States and Iraq have come up with little except verbal commitments to fight the PKK. “I have been shocked by the news reports today from Hakkari of terrorist violence that has claimed many dead and wounded,” said US Ambassador Ross Wilson in a statement. “I am committed to working with Turkey and Turkish authorities to eliminate the PKK terrorist threat to the people of Turkey. Ending this cycle of violence is a goal that unites us.”
Asked whether there have been any talks with Iraq or the United States, Çiçek said Turkey would no longer be satisfied with words and statements. “Statements do not satisfy us, there is nothing left to say. We are expecting concrete steps from them,” he said.
On Wednesday, Parliament gave nearly unanimous support for the government motion allowing cross-border operations into northern Iraq for the next year. Yesterday’s attacks intensified calls for use of the authorization. Turkey deploys more than 200,000 troops in southeastern Anatolia and some 70,000 troops are deployed on the border, ready for a cross-border operation in a short notice. With additional reinforcements currently in Diyarbakır, this number could go up to 150,000, sources said.
“An extensive operation within Turkey and on the other side of the border has become a necessity under the current circumstances,” said Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Bahçeli criticized Erdoğan’s earlier comment that he would discuss the matter with President George W. Bush during his visit to Washington on Nov. 5, saying Turkey should not wait any longer.
The MHP leader also pressed the government to expand the anti-terror powers of security organizations and said all necessary measures must be taken to ensure success in the fight against terrorism, including the re-introduction of emergency rule in southeastern Anatolia.
“Turkey cannot detour by acting hesitantly in regard to military action,” said main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal. “We have to understand that what we are faced with is a sort of war. There has been a covert war launched against Turkey through the PKK.”
“Turkey’s common sense has not been reciprocated,” said Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan, referring to Turkey’s unanswered calls on the United States and Iraq to take action against the PKK. “We will take the necessary measures to heal the grief [caused by the deaths of] our martyrs.”
The scope of a possible cross-border operation was being discussed at the security summit chaired by Gül. The meeting, attended by the prime minister, chief of general staff, commanders of the land forces and the gendarmerie and the interior and defense ministers as well as Çiçek, was still continuing as Today’s Zaman went to print.
Iraqi Kurdish officials also reported that the Turkish military fired artillery shells on targets inside northern Iraq. A Kurdish official was quoted as saying that about 11 areas were subject to shelling by the Turkish military but that there were no casualties.
Deputy Governor of the Kurdish province of Dohuk Gorkeis Sulaiman said the Turkish shelling targeted areas close to the towns of Zakhu and Amardiya and destroyed a bridge linking two villages near Amardiya, according to Reuters.
Residents in Zakhu gave a similar version of events. “Today at dawn the Turkish artillery shelling started in villages around Zakhu. We were sleeping, and we all jumped from our beds. We thought that war had started,” said a man in his 50s in Zakhu. “My children started screaming.”