The government is under increasing international pressure to end its latest military operations in northern Iraq, but may face problems reconciling international demands with domestic politics. Newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Erdal Inonu is to visit four Western capitals, including Bonn, which has frozen a military grant and suspended a shipment of military hardware.
Turkish officials are reportedly surprised by the strong international reaction to the 20 March incursion by 35,000 Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan to wipe out alleged bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Western countries have demanded an early pullout. Only the US expressed understanding for the operation, but the Clinton administration, under Congressional pressure for sanctions, later took a more critical stance.
NATO countries say they are concerned that Turkey plans to keep its troops indefinitely in a buffer zone on the Iraqi side of the border. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has said the troops will pull out as soon as possible, but official Turkish statements have been contradictory.
Ciller has also compared the operation to the successful invasion of Cyprus in 1974. However, the Turkish military appears to be having problems locating PKK guerrillas. It claimed to have killed 269 guerrillas by 28 March, many of them in Hakurk, near the Iran-Turkey-Iraq borders. The PKK claims to have killed 300 Turkish troops, with the loss of only 24 of its fighters.
Western countries and UN agencies have also expressed concern over alleged attacks against Kurdish civilians and violations of human rights.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ferhat Ataman said on 29 March that Germany’s freeze of military aid could kill Turkey’s $500 million order for two warships. ‘The frozen amount of DM 150 million ($107 million) is only part of the total project value for the two frigates to be built for Turkey and worth DM 840 million ($610 million),’ he said. ‘It is worth thinking about how the suspension of the grant could affect the overall project,’ he added.