Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has urged the Iraqi Kurds to cooperate with Turkey in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, saying Turkey will otherwise have every right to enter Iraqi territory to prevent PKK attacks on Turkish targets.
"Turkey cannot let an entity that constitutes a clear and direct threat to itself exist right across its borders," Davutoğlu said in a televised interview on Saturday. "The northern Iraqi administration should stop this terrorist entity and cooperate with us. Otherwise, we will enter [Iraq] and stop it. This is our right that stems from international law."
The Turkish military launched a cross-border offensive after a deadly PKK attack on Oct. 19, when 24 soldiers were killed in the province of Hakkari, which borders Iraq. The PKK has bases in Kurdish-run northern Iraq and uses them as a springboard for attacks on Turkey.
Davutoğlu said it was time for everyone to clarify their stance vis-à-vis terrorism.
"We have made numerous warnings and heard many promises -- both by the central Iraqi government and the regional government in northern Iraq. Now, our message is clear: Everybody should come up with a clear stance. Neutrality is not acceptable in the fight against terrorism," he said.
Nechirvan Barzani, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official, rushed to Ankara after the Oct. 19 attack to express solidarity. Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdish administration, is also expected to visit Ankara soon to discuss anti-PKK cooperation.
Asked whether Massoud Barzani's anti-terror stance was clear enough, Davutoğlu said there have been positive developments regarding the Kurdish administration's stance over the past years. "The immediate condemnation of the attack, the visit [by Nechirvan Barzani] in the wake of the attack and the expression of readiness to act together with Turkey are all positive developments," Davutoğlu said.
Speaking after talks with Nechirvan Barzani, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey is seeking cooperation with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in its fight against the PKK along the border with northern Iraq.
Davutoğlu did not rule out the creation of a buffer zone or a military base inside northern Iraq, saying that "all measures will be taken" to eliminate the PKK presence. The foreign minister said the Iraqi Kurdish administration has supported Turkish measures against the PKK.
Turkey Puts More Pressure on Europe to Curb PKK Activities
The reluctance of many European countries to move against terrorist the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, activities on their soil continues to be a major concern for the Turkish government, which has been increasingly vocal in its demand for quick action to curb financial and logistical support to the outlawed organization.
The PKK continues to operate in such countries as Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Though the PKK has been experiencing hard times recently, due to operations launched against the terrorist organization in some European countries, it continue to raise funds and find new recruits in others without any major difficulty, analysts say.
The arrest and then conditional release of several PKK leaders in Belgium, the ongoing judicial process against the PKK in France and the ongoing case into the PKK-affiliated ROJ TV in Denmark are signs that the PKK may confront some difficulty in some European countries. Yet in others, especially in Germany, the PKK operates freely, runs public campaigns, courts politicians and collects money for terror attacks against Turkish military, police and civilian targets in Turkey.
The latest criticism on the issue came from Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who lashed out at German authorities for turning a blind eye to PKK terror activities in Germany. Çiçek deliberately chose the venue to deliver his message when he was travelling on a symbolic train ride from İstanbul to Germany to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the emigration of Turkish workers to the European country.
"The number of outlawed PKK and Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front [DHKP/C] members in Germany is twice that in Kandil [a mountain range in Iraq where the PKK's headquarters are located]," Çiçek said.
Despite being listed as a terrorist organization in Germany, the PKK continues to operate under various names in the European Union's largest member country. The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Germany since 1993. Turkey has especially criticized Germany many times in recent years for not properly dealing with the PKK and other terrorist organizations active in Turkey and for not returning members of those organizations living in Germany, where it is estimated that around 4 million Turks live.
Last month Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also accused a number of German funds of funneling money to the PKK through loans offered to municipalities run by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, the political wing of the PKK.
Süleyman Özeren, an associate professor at the Turkish National Police Academy, which specializes in security and terrorism, told Today's Zaman that Germany stands out among other European countries as the most reluctant partner in combating the PKK.
"Germany has become the most important country for the PKK not only in raising hundreds of millions of euros for the terror organization but also recruiting young militants to the PKK," he said, underlining that Germany is the least willing to lend support to Turkish efforts in fighting PKK terror.
"We do not see the German government taking effective measures to make it difficult for the terror organization to raise money or recruit new militants. The country has turned out to be the best place for the PKK to run terror propaganda openly and without any difficulty," Özeren explained. He warned that it this continues unabated, both Germany and other European countries will pay a heavy price for harboring terror organization in their midst."
At the 2011 Bosporus Conference in İstanbul two weeks ago, Turkey's EU Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bağış also urged Europe to take more concrete steps against PKK terror. He asked European countries to work together with Turkey to combat terrorism, adding, "What al-Qaeda is to the West, the PKK is to Turkey."
"The PKK is not only an enemy of Turkey, but also of Europe because while the PKK kills Turkish people with bullets, it is killing European youth with drugs," Bagış said.
Strategic Research and Study Center, or SAREM, head Önder Aytaç argued that European countries have a vested interest in seeing Turkey involved in internal problems so that it will be in a weak position.
"As long as the PKK does not pose a threat to the vital interests of European countries, they will continue to turn a blind eye to PKK activities in their territories," he said, adding that the European security agencies will not interfere with PKK activities at this stage. "They [PKK militants] do not engage in terror activities in host countries in Europe in order to not invite the wrath of the security services there," Aytaç told Today's Zaman.
In fact, the EU's police agency, Europol, in its latest report confirmed the PKK's involvement in activities such as drug smuggling, human trafficking and money laundering. "Information obtained from EU member states shows, for instance, that both the PKK/Kongra-Gel are actively involved in drugs and human trafficking, the facilitation of illegal immigration, credit card skimming, money laundering and fraud for the purpose of funding terrorist [support] operations," Europol said in its 2011 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, or TE-SAT.
The report also said the PKK was pursuing a "double strategy" of resorting to violence in Turkey, while seeking legitimacy abroad and likely to pursue this double strategy. It also noted that the terrorism threat posed by the group to EU states can currently be considered as "relatively low." "However, the large number of PKK/Kongra-Gel militants living in the EU and the continuing support activities in the EU, like large demonstrations organized in the past, show that the PKK/Kongra-Gel is in a position to mobilize its constituency at any time and is an indication that it maintains the capability to execute attacks in the EU," it added.
The 2011 report of the Federal Office for the Defense of the Constitution (Bundesverfassungsschutz) also confirmed Europol findings, saying that the PKK collects funds from Kurds in Germany and even sends people to join its militia arm, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), who fight against the Turkish army and in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq. The report states that the PKK has 11,500 members in Germany. The report further indicates "a few million euros" have been collected by the organization. It also states that some Kurdish youths join the PKK; however, no exact figure is given on the number of people who have joined the terrorist organization.
Another report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Austria, unveiled by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner in early August, also confirms German findings. The report said the main goal of PKK activities in Europe is to finance the administrative units of the terrorist organization and win new members to the ranks of the PKK. The report drew attention to the contradictory attitudes of the PKK in Europe as the terrorist organization seems to adopt a pro-peace attitude on one side, while it still perpetuates its armed struggle. The reports say the PKK's messages about adhering to democracy and abandoning violence and separatist ideas are not realistic.
Hashemi Supports Turkish Operations in Iraq
Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who had talks with Erdoğan and Davutoğlu on Friday, also supported Turkish military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, saying the Turkish counterterrorism measures were "legitimate."
"It is obvious that the PKK carries out attacks on Turkey from Iraqi soil. Turkey can of course launch operations in Iraqi territory," Hashemi told state broadcaster TRT in an interview. He underlined, however, that any cross-border offensive should take place when "necessary," be concluded when its mission is accomplished and be coordinated with the Iraqi side.
Hashemi said Erdoğan was "very determined" to finish off the PKK this time.
The Iraqi vice president also underlined that Iraq was not involved in the PKK issue, since PKK members were citizens of Turkey, and said political measures would be as important as military ones in countering terrorism. He particularly pointed out that Turkey's efforts to draft a new constitution could help solve the issue if the new constitution contains reforms that would invalidate the PKK's cause.
But the Iraqi vice president avoided any commitment to fight the PKK militarily, saying the Iraqi government still has no troops to secure its borders. "But we will be able to have border troops in the future and when we have that, we will better protect our southern and northern borders," he said.
Asked whether a joint Turkish-Iraqi operation against the PKK was possible, Hashemi was again non-committal, saying that existing agreements between Turkey and Iraq do not provide the legal ground for such operations. "New agreements should be signed," he said.
Iran Formally Complains to U.S. Over Plot Charges
Iran has formally complained to the United States over claims the Iranian government was involved in an alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's U.S. ambassador, a U.S. official said Sunday.
The official said the U.S. received a diplomatic note on Friday expressing displeasure with the charges that were leveled earlier this month. Iran has already denied the allegations. The note was delivered through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran since the two countries don't have diplomatic relations.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic exchange.
Earlier this month, U.S. officials claimed agents linked to Iran's Quds Force, an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, were involved in the suspected plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
An Iranian diplomatic source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the letter emphasized Iranian assertions that Washington's allegations are "based on lies" and called into question U.S. diplomatic tactics that Iran calls violations of "international rules and regulations."
The Iranian source did not make the precise wording of the letter available, but said the letter also mentioned the thousands of deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the "billions of dollars from the U.S. citizens' pockets."
Plans by President Barack Obama to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year have drawn criticism from political opponents because of Iran's close ties with Iraq's Shiite majority and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The letter called for a U.S. apology for the ambassador plot allegations and sought unspecified compensation for "material and moral damages of this baseless accusation," the source added.
A dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who holds an Iranian passport, Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, pleaded not guilty last week in U.S. District Court in New York in connection with the plot allegations. According to the U.S. complaint, Arbabsiar has admitted his role in a $1.5 million plot to kill the ambassador at a Washington restaurant by setting off explosives.
But many experts in Iranian affairs have questioned why Iran's Quds Force, which typically works through third parties such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, would reach out to Arbabsiar, a former used car salesman in Texas who is accused of seeking Mexican drug cartel hit men, to carry out the slaying.
No trial date has been set for Arbabsiar. U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan scheduled his next court appearance for Dec. 21.
MGK Never Discussed PKK, Army Chief Says
Talks between intelligence officials and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have not been discussed at the National Security Council, or MGK, for at least a year, Turkey's Army chief said.
"The Chief of General Staff [Gen. Necdet Özel] attended MGK meetings as the commander of the gendarmerie between August 2010 and August 2011. No such issue came up to the agenda during those meetings," the General Staff said.
Özel, who became the chief of the General Staff at the beginning of August 2011, said earlier this month that he learned of talks between the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and the PKK only when an audio tape of the meetings was leaked on the Internet in September and added that he was still unsure as to whether the tape was genuine.
In remarks to Radikal, an unnamed government official contested Özel's statement, saying contacts with the PKK were discussed at the MGK's bi-monthly meetings.
MİT officials are known to have held several rounds of talks with PKK militants in Europe, as well as with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on the prison island of İmralı, as part of efforts to settle the Kurdish conflict.
Prime Minister Says Democracy is Antidote to Terror
Turkey will not back down from democratic reform and human rights in its struggle against terrorism, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday, adding that Kurdish militants had suffered "significant losses" in a recent military offensive.
Speaking in a monthly address to the nation, Erdoğan pledged "more justice, more democracy and more freedoms" for the country's citizens.
"More democracy is the antidote to terror. The solution to terror lies in insisting on human rights, justice and freedoms," he said. "The [terrorists'] dirty calculations will fail, and those who expect gains from terror will not succeed.
"We are taking all measures in order to prevent the propaganda of terror and to leave the terrorist organization without oxygen," Erdoğan said, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, killed 24 soldiers in simultaneous attacks earlier this month in Hakkari province, on Turkey's rugged southeastern border with Iraq, prompting a massive military response.
Alleged PKK Sympathizers Clash with Turkish Protestors in Paris
Fifteen people were wounded Sunday when a group of alleged Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, supporters attacked Turkish anti-terror demonstrators in Paris.
Turkish citizens had gathered in Bastille Square in Paris in the late afternoon to protest the recent terrorist attacks when alleged PKK supporters attacked them with sticks and stones.
Fifteen people were wounded, and one remains in critical condition.
The protesters refused to leave after the attacks and continued their demonstrations. The French police force then reportedly surrounded the group and used tear gas to contain them.
Anti-terror protests by Turkish citizens in other countries have been going on for some time. A recent protest took place in Holland, where the protests took place peacefully, excluding a minor discrepancy that was quickly resolved by the involvement of Turkish authorities.
CHP Leader Sends Fraud Letter to Prime Minister
Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urging him to take action regarding allegations of large-scale corruption among officials at Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality.
Kılıçdaroğlu decided to write the letter after Erdoğan called on him earlier this month to practice "decency" and accused the opposition leader of turning a blind eye to corruption among the ranks of his own Republican People's Party, or CHP.
"As you would remember, I've sent you the notebook that showed very clearly the bribery traffic going on at the Kayseri Municipality," ," Kılıçdaroğlu wrote, according to a CHP statement issued Sunday.
"The notebook contained records of the bribes, kuruş by kuruş, by which they were given, to whom they given and how they were shared. And what did you do? You said the notebook did not carry a signature and covered it up. You did not even assign an inspector to look into the allegations."
Kılıçdaroğlu said the CHP was taking action against members implicated in fraudulent affairs.
"I recommend that you also act decently and hand over the documents outlining the corruption and the bribe notebook you are still holding to the judiciary," he said.
Western Intervention Will Burn Region, Syria's Assad Says
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned against Western intervention in his country's 7-month-old uprising, saying such action would trigger an "earthquake" that "would burn the whole region."
Al-Assad's comments, published in an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph, were made against a backdrop of growing calls from anti-regime protesters for a no-fly zone over Syria and increasingly frequent clashes between government troops and army defectors, which left at least 30 troops dead late Saturday.
"Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake," al-Assad said. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?"
Al-Assad's remarks appeared to reflect his regime's increasing concern about foreign intervention in the country's crisis after the recent death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled by a popular uprising backed by NATO airstrikes.
Syrian opposition leaders have not called for an armed uprising like the one in Libya and have, for the most part, opposed foreign intervention, and the U.S. and its allies have shown little appetite for intervening in another Arab nation in turmoil. But with the 7-month-old revolt against al-Assad stalemated, some Syrian protesters have begun calling for a no-fly zone over the country because of fears the regime might use its air force now that army defectors are becoming more active in fighting the security forces.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a clash Saturday night in the restive central city of Homs between soldiers and gunmen, believed to be an of army defectors, left at least 20 soldiers dead and 53 wounded. It also said gunmen ambushed a bus carrying security officers late Saturday in the northwestern province of Idlib, killing at least 10 security agents. One attacker was also killed.
The Associated Press could not verify the activist's accounts. Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground. Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, said seven members of the military and police, who were killed in Homs and the suburbs of Damascus were buried Sunday.
The unrest in Syria could send unsettling ripples through the region, as Damascus' web of alliances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement, the militant Palestinian Hamas and Iran's Shiite theocracy.
Aware of those concerns at home and abroad, Assad said "any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, it is to divide the whole region."
The uprising against the Syrian regime began during a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The UN says that Assad's crackdown has left more than 3,000 people dead since the uprising began in mid-March.
Facing an unprecedented threat to his rule, Assad is desperate to show that only he can guarantee security in a troubled region where failed states abound.
In a show of support to al-Assad's regime, thousands of Syrians carrying the nation's flag and al-Assad posters rallied Sunday in a major square in the southern city of Sweida, some 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Damascus, near the Jordanian border. There have been two similar massive pro-Assad demonstrations in recent days in the capital Damascus and the coastal city of Latakia.
Al-Assad said that Western countries "are going to ratchet up the pressure, definitely," a veiled reference to a wave of sanctions that were imposed by the European Union and the United States. "But Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different," al-Assad said.
The Syrian president described the uprising as a "struggle between Islamism and pan-Arabism." He was referring to his ruling Baath party's secular ideology and the Muslim Brotherhood that was crushed by his regime in 1982.
"We've been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them," al-Assad said.
Speaking to Russia's state Channel One television in an interview broadcast Sunday, al-Assad hailed the Russian veto of a European-backed UN Security Council resolution on Syria that aimed to impose sanctions on Damascus. He added that Syria will count on continued support from Moscow.
"We are relying on Russia as a country with which we have strong historic ties," al-Assad said.
The measure vetoed by Russia and China earlier this month would have been the first legally binding resolution against Syria since Assad's forces began attacking civilian protesters.
Hopes Dim for Turkey Quake Victims as Toll Mounts
Teams that have been working around the clock for a week to rescue survivors from the Van earthquake were set to wind up their activities by nightfall Sunday, according to Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay.
"We would like to thank the international community. Countries like Iran and Azerbaijan have shown extreme sensitivity," Atalay said during a Saturday press conference. "We first rejected [outside] aid to see our own potential but they can send us aid equipment such as tents, prefabricated houses, containers and blankets. We would like to thank every country that has shown interest."
A total of 35,257 tents – 3,548 from abroad – have been sent to the region, Atalay said, adding that a staff of 250 doctors and a 900-person team from the Emergency Aid Team had been sent to the region.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the devastating earthquake has now risen to 596, the government's emergency unit said Sunday. Some 188 people have been pulled out alive from the rubble, while more than 4,150 people have been injured, according to officials.
Health officials in Van's Erciş district, the epicenter of the 7.2-magnitude quake that hit Oct. 23, warned survivors against drinking tap water, saying the water network had been damaged during the temblor and could be contaminated with sewage.
Israel Sends Two More Planes Carrying Aid
Two more Israeli planes carrying five housing containers each landed in Erzurum Sunday.
"We are working in full coordination with our Turkish colleagues and will keep on extending any help needed," said Nizar Amer, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy. "Now our concern is to see to it that the aid will get into Turkish hands as soon as possible."
Upon Turkey's call on the international community for assistance for quake-hit Van province, Israel sent a plane carrying containers to respond to housing necessities of earthquake victims. Israel was the first country to respond to Turkey's call, immediately sending a civilian Boeing 747 carrying seven prefabricated housing units.
Turkey asked for assistance from more than 30 countries offering to help in the country's efforts to relieve its easternmost province from the 7.2-magnitude quake that struck on Oct. 23.
Turkey to Rewrite Software Source Codes of F-16 Fighters
The United States administration agreed in principle almost two months ago for the transfer of information over software source codes of United States Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters to Turkey.
Once the agreement is completed, and if approved by Congress, Turkey will have the capability to automatically modify the software source codes of the fighters' weapons systems with national software source codes, U.SS sources, who asked not to be named, said. Turkey will become the first nation among 26 to have the F-16s in their inventories and have the ability to receive information on the F-16 fighters' software source codes -- primarily their weapons systems -- thereby enabling it to replace them with national software source codes whenever necessary.
Once Turkey and the U.S. complete around 50 pages of technical details over the nature of the transfer of technology, an agreement should be signed, pending U.S. congressional approval. Congress has long prevented arms transfers to NATO member Turkey, mainly in response to its strained ties with Israel.
President Barack Obama's administration has of late, however, sought congressional authorization for the sale of three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Turkey. This indicates a softening on the part of Congress toward Turkey.
Turkey has had a long-standing request for Super Cobras, as these helicopters are required in its ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists who have increased their violent attacks as of late.
It is not clear whether the U.S. administration will seek congressional authorization for another long-standing Turkish request for the sale of four Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, and two armed Reaper UAVs.
However, some of the weapons that the U.S. reportedly pledged to transfer to Turkey as it withdraws from Iraq in December of this year are said to not be subject to the approval of Congress.
Missile Defense Link
According to U.S. sources, Washington has agreed in principle to transfer the information mainly concerning the weapon systems of the F-16s so that Turkey can integrate, by itself, the national software source codes, as Turkey has pursued a very persistent policy on the matter.
However, Turkey's approval to deploy a radar system of the U.S.-supported NATO missile defense System on its soil is understood to have played an important role in Washington's agreement to, in principle, transfer the software source codes of mainly the weapons systems of the F-16s to Turkey. Turkey agreed last month to host a powerful U.S.-supplied radar system to act as advanced eyes for a layered shield against ballistic missiles coming from outside Europe.
The AN/TPY-2 surveillance radar in Turkey will boost the shield's capability against Iran, which Washington alleges is seeking to build nuclear weapons -- a charge Tehran denies.
"By agreeing to transfer information on F-16 weapon systems so that Turkey could automatically integrate them with national software source codes, the U.S. sought to ease tensions with its NATO ally, which is important in safeguarding U.S. interests in the Middle East. The U.S. also puts strong emphasis on seeing Turkish-Israeli relations normalize," according to the unnamed source.
50 Weapons Systems on Each F-16
Lockheed Martin this year began supplying Turkey with 14 F-16C variants and 16 F-16Ds under a deal signed in May 2007. The total cost of 30 additional F-16s to Turkey is $1.78 billion.
Under a separate agreement signed in April 2005 between Turkey and the U.S., 213 Turkish F-16s are being upgraded at a cost of $1.1 billion at the Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, in Ankara. Turkey will be able to change the software source codes of the weapons systems on a total of 204 F-16s with national software source codes if a final agreement is reached with the US.
There are 50 different types of weapons systems on each F-16 that are classified.