Turkish election fever fuels Iraq threats

ANKARA — From Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan down, Turkey’s politicians are threatening military intervention in northern Iraq to crush Turkish Kurdish rebels hiding there if, as seems sure, US forces fail to tackle them.

Most analysts link the threats, which are not new but are flowing much more thickly now, to the approach of elections in Turkey and the politicians’ need to appear tough in the eyes of an increasingly nationalistic and anti-US electorate.

But there is a risk the politicians may get swept along by their rhetoric into rash decisions. Air raids on mountain hideouts of    Kurdish Labour Party (PKK) rebels or small-scale commando raids over the border are possible, some analysts say.

“There is a Turkish proverb that says, ‘the dog that barks does not bite’… The politicians are just making lots of noise, provoking each other in the search for votes,” said Dogu Ergil of Ankara University, author of books on the Kurdish issue.

“But exaggerated rhetoric that ends with no action could undermine their credibility in the public’s eyes,” he said.

Turkey’s parliament chooses a new president in May — many think Erdogan will go for the top job, despite worries over his Islamist past — and voters elect a new parliament in November.

“I would say half the noise we are hearing now on Iraq and the Kurds is about the presidential elections, the other half is about the general election. Iraq is an easy issue to exploit,” said Semih Idiz, diplomatic correspondent of CNN Turk TV.

“It is posture politics, but there is a danger of it all getting out of hand,” he said.

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