The Turkish army has announced today the creation of three temporary "security areas" in the largely uninhabited mountainous regions close to Turkey's border with Iraq. This step is aimed at preventing the infiltration of Turkish territory by the PKK terrorists based in northern Iraq. While Turkish authorities will keep saying that an anti-PKK operation in northern Iraq cannot be ruled out, the likelihood of a large scale ground incursion by the Turkish troops in northern Iraq remains low in the near future.
The three security areas are in the provinces of Sirnak and Hakkari (close to the border with northern Iraq) and in Siirt, which is farther north of the border. The creation of the security areas means that additional security measures-such as restricting access, closing the air space to civilian flights and setting up more checkpoints-will be adopted in the aforementioned provinces. All three provinces have been the scene of intense fighting with the PKK in the past few weeks. The security areas will remain in effect from June 9 to September 9.
Meanwhile, the army is continuing its large scale operation against the PKK in Turkey's southeastern regions. The buildup is a routine seasonal operation, which has been intensified over the past few days in response to a sudden upsurge in PKK attacks.
Barring one or two major bombing attacks by the PKK causing a large amount of casualties, as happened in Ankara on May 22, we do not expect the Turkish army to carry out a large-scale ground incursion into northern Iraq in the near future. Turkey may carry out some small-scale attacks (limited air strikes, cross-border artillery fire, hot pursuits) as these operations are not expected to cause a serious rift in Turkey-U.S. relations.
Facing critical parliamentary elections on July 22 and determined to boost its nationalist credentials, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition parties will continue warning that Turkey is not ruling out a cross-border incursion into north Iraq to deal with the PKK and intensify pressure on the United States to live up to its pledge to help Ankara in the fight against the Kurdish militants. Due to the soon-to-start electoral campaign, rumors about the possibility of a military strike by Turkey into northern Iraq, with or without the approval of the United States, are set to intensify in the next few weeks.
On a related note, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated yesterday that parliament's approval was needed for an incursion into northern Iraq. Turkey's parliament, now in recess ahead of a July general election, would have to reconvene to authorize any serious military operation in Iraq.
When asked whether the scope of the temporary security areas could be widened in the future, Erdogan said a "state of emergency" (OHAL) is out of question. Emergency rule was introduced in 1987 in various southeastern provinces most affected by the conflict with the PKK and was lifted in the last two remaining provinces (Diyarbakir and Sirnak) in 2002.
Erdogan also criticized some news agencies for their groundless reports yesterday saying that 2,000 Turkish soldiers had entered northern Iraq. The rumor was initially spread by a website known for its frequent unreliable reports and was later picked up by several news agencies.
Wolfango Piccoli is an analyst with the Eurasia Group (www.eurasiagroup.net).