HAKKARI/BAGHDAD (Reuters/AFP) - Turkish armed forces have ended an almost three-week operation against Kurdish militants in the southeast region of Semdinli , bordering Iran and Iraq, and have killed “a large number” of fighters, the local governor said in a statement on Saturday.
Turkish jets have bombarded Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions around the mountainous region in one of most intense bouts of fighting in recent years in a decades-long conflict which has killed 40,000 people.
“The aerial-supported operations launched by our security forces on July 23, 2012 ... were completed on August 11, 2012 morning,” said the governor’s office of Hakkari, the province where Semdinli is located. “As a result of the operations, conducted with determination and rigour, the terrorist organisation PKK was unable to reach its cruel goals and a large number of its members have been rendered ineffective,” it said in a statement, employing a euphemism commonly used by officials to mean killed. Erdogan said on August 7 that 115 PKK militants had been killed in Semdinli . The fighting began after the PKK set up checkpoints and tried to establish a stronghold there. The militants have fought for autonomy for Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. Turkey, the United States and the European Union list the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Murat Karayilan, the acting PKK leader, said last week the group was changing tactics with its battle in Semdinli , according to Firat News, a website close to the militants.
Instead of their traditional hit-and-run ambushes on Turkish security forces , PKK fighters would remain positioned in Semdinli in an attempt to form a stronghold there, he said.
Suspected Kurdish militants ambushed a Turkish military bus in western Turkey on Thursday in an attack that killed one soldier and wounded at least 11 people. Turkish media reported a man was arrested on Saturday in connection with the attack.
Increased PKK violence is a headache for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as he seeks to limit the impact at home of the conflict in Syria, where the PKK exerts growing authority in Kurdish areas and is receiving arms from Syrian forces , Ankara has said.
Whereas, in a statement released on Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Turkey has been dealing with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region as though it were an independent state. Turkey is “dealing with the (Kurdistan) region as an independent state, and this is rejected by us,” Maliki said in a soon-to-be broadcast interview with a Turkish television channel, according to the statement on his website.
If Turkey “wants to establish good relations, its relations with the region must be built through the gate of Iraq,” Maliki said. His remarks come after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Kurdistan and made a side trip to Kirkuk, a disputed city which Kurdish authorities want to incorporate into their region over the federal government’s objections, without informing Baghdad. The visit incensed Iraqi authorities and brought already-chilly ties between Baghdad and Ankara to a new low. In July, a Kurdish official said the region had begun to export oil to Turkey without Baghdad’s permission, a move which the Iraqi central government termed “illegal.”
Baghdad and Arbil are at odds over issues including Kurdistan’s refusal to seek approval from the central government for oil contracts it has awarded to foreign firms, and over a swathe of disputed territory in northern Iraq.
Two-way trade between Turkey and the three-province Kurdistan region - which has its own flag, government and security forces but is still a part of Iraq - amounts to billions of dollars per year.