ErdoÄŸan sends signals of N. Iraq embargo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan suggested yesterday that Turkey might impose economic sanctions to force Iraqi Kurds to crack down on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — which has bases in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north — saying Turkey’s developing economy is a part of its political and diplomatic might.  


“The strong economic structure that we have today is also a source of our economic and political strength,” ErdoÄŸan told a meeting inaugurating week-long activities focusing on foreign trade. “It should be known that we will not hesitate to use this power whenever it is necessary. We will do whatever is needed without hesitation.” 


Erdoğan was speaking before a meeting of the Cabinet to decide on what measures to take against Iraqi Kurdish groups that Turkey accuses of supporting the PKK. Last week, a regular National Security Council (MGK) meeting recommended the government take action in the economic sphere. Possible measures include cutting off electricity supplies to northern Iraq and preventing the passage of construction materials and foodstuffs to northern Iraq through the Habur border gate. Permanent closure of the Habur gate could also be a possible measure, although it is likely to hurt the local economy in impoverished southeastern Anatolia as well. Kurdish-run northern Iraq is reliant on food imports and Turkish investment in construction projects and also buys 10 percent of its electricity from Turkey. 


Erdoğan suggested that the economy could be used to ensure security, saying the economy existed to support security and that security was needed to support a strong economy. 


Apparently dismissing concerns that a possible cross-border operation into northern Iraq could damage the economic stability and economic growth Erdoğan’s government has overseen in the past five years, he said the government won’t give up economic stability for security or vice versa. 


After a recent surge in PKK attacks in southeastern Anatolia, the government asked Parliament for authorization to hit the PKK bases in northern Iraq. Parliament gave the go-ahead earlier this month. Erdoğan hinted that the economy would not be affected by a possible operation, saying that “Turkey’s economy is capable of overcoming unexpected developments.” 


The United States, in addition to a large segment of the international community, has expressed sympathy for Turkey’s fight against terrorism but warned against an invasion, saying this would further destabilize northern Iraq. In a statement from Moscow, the Kremlin’s deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Turkey’s security concerns are understandable, though it should show restraint. 


“We stick to the position that [in] exercising its legitimate rights, Turkey should realize its responsibility as a regional state so as not to make things worse. Any sharp movements can deteriorate the situation [and] take it out of control,” Peskov said. 


Iraqi Kurds, who have enjoyed economic growth and autonomy for the past decade, say they suspect a Turkish operation would target the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, not the PKK alone. On Tuesday, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani was quoted as complaining in an interview that Turkey refused to talk to Iraqi Kurds but still wants them to deal with the PKK. 


Erdoğan, speaking at a reception at the Çankaya presidential palace on Tuesday evening on the occasion of Republic Day, responded to Barzani’s complaints of a lack of dialogue with Turkey and reiterated that Barzani was not the point of contact for Turkey because he was “aiding and abetting the terrorist organization in that region.” Erdoğan also said: “Barzani should clarify his position. He is currently harboring terrorists in the region, and what this means in terms of international law is obvious.” 


Erdoğan also chided Turkish journalists for interviewing him, saying the next thing to do would perhaps be an interview with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. 


President Abdullah Gül, also speaking to reporters at the reception, accused Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq of lacking long-term considerations and maintained that Barzani acted in reliance on the US. When asked about whether the US encourages Barzani in his motives, Gül said: “If such encouragement is given, calculations about the future will be wrong. The US soldiers will leave the region one day; they are already planning to withdraw. Everybody knows who the powers in this region are. One should be wary of the plots made by the terrorist organization.” 


Saying, “It seems we are going to war,” several reporters teased Erdoğan, who responded to them by saying, “We will think a hundred times before making a move, but we will make it in the best way.” When reporters reminded him of the password Turkey used during the 1974 intervention in Cyprus, “Ayşe has gone on vacation,” the prime minister joked: “Why do you insist on Ayşe? It was [so] in 1974. Let it be Fatma this time.” 



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