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Turkey Attacks Kurdish Militant Camps in Northern Iraq

ISTANBUL — Turkish fighter jets, which on Friday attacked Islamic State targets in Syria, have launched a wave of airstrikes in northern Iraq, targeting camps of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party for the first time in four years, the prime minister’s office said Saturday.

The Iraq raids, which began late Friday and continued into Saturday, effectively ended an unstable two-year cease-fire between the Turkish government and the Kurdish militants, also known by the initials of their Kurdish name, P.K.K. After a three-decade conflict that claimed at least 40,000 lives, the two sides reached a fragile peace in 2013, though there have been a few minor clashes since then.

Fighter jets also struck Islamic State targets in Syria for a second day, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office said in the statement on Saturday. The jets entered Syrian airspace to do so, the statement said, unlike during the previous strikes, which the government said were carried out from the Turkish side of the border.

“No one should doubt our determination,” Mr. Davutoglu said, speaking to reporters in Ankara, the capital, on Saturday. “We will not allow Turkey to be turned into a lawless country.”

In the past week, Turkey began taking a more active role in fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, agreeing to let the United States use its air bases to attack the militants in Syria as well as carrying out its own strikes. The moves came after a suicide bomber suspected of having ties to the Islamic State struck a cultural center in the Turkish border town of Suruc on Monday, killing at least 32 people, in one of the worst cases of spillover violence from the war in Syria.

In a series of counterterrorism raids over the past two days, Turkish authorities have arrested 590 people suspected of being members of the Islamic State or the P.K.K., Mr. Davutoglu said.

In the past year, Turkey, a longtime American ally and NATO member, has faced increased pressure from Western governments to take a more active role in the American-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State.

Turkey’s reluctance stemmed in part from the fact that the government did not want to embolden Kurdish militias, who have been making gains across its frontier with Syria, having received increased military support from the United States to fight the Islamic State.

One militia, the People’s Protection Unit, or Y.P.G., which is leading the fight against the Islamic State on the ground in Syria, is an affiliate of the P.K.K., and Turkey had been cautious about taking action in Syria to avoid straining relations with its own Kurdish minority.

But the peace efforts, now in their third year, have broken down as the Turkish government has failed to meet Kurdish demands for greater rights and more autonomy after decades of being ostracized by the Turkish state.

“The truce has no meaning anymore after these intense airstrikes by the occupant Turkish army,” the P.K.K. said on its website on Saturday.

The bombing at the cultural center on Monday also inflamed tensions between Turkey and Kurdish nationalists, who accused the government of collaborating with the Islamic State and facilitating their activities within Turkey.

Most of the victims of the attack were young Kurdish activists, who had gathered at the center to discuss the rebuilding of Kobani, a war-torn border town in Syria that has come under numerous attacks from the Islamic State over the past year.

The military branch of the P.K.K. killed two Turkish police officers in Turkey’s southeast on Tuesday, in an attack that it said was in retaliation for the Suruc bombing.

On Friday, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that all terrorist organizations must lay down their weapons or “face consequences.”

Analysts say that Turkey’s decision to attack P.K.K. bases in Iraq was a disproportionate response to the increased violence across Turkey in the past week.

The last time Turkey carried out strikes against P.K.K. camps in northern Iraq was in 2011, when it launched a six-day offensive, striking 132 targets.

“It seems Erdogan has decided to shelve the peace process and go on an all-out military offensive against the P.K.K.,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a Turkish columnist and analyst for CNN Turk.

“This is coming out of the blue,” Ms. Aydintasbas said. “It is worrisome, and one cannot help but think that part of Erdogan’s calculus is galvanizing the nationalist vote before a possible early election.”

The general elections on June 7 stripped Mr. Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., of its majority in Parliament, necessitating the formation of a coalition government for the first time in over a decade.

The party’s failure to secure a majority was partly attributed to the success of a pro-Kurdish party that gained representation in Parliament for the first time.

Mr. Erdogan gave Mr. Davutoglu a mandate to form a new government this month, beginning rounds of coalition talks with the country’s three main opposition blocs. If he fails to do so within 45 days of the mandate, the president could call for an early election.

The unrest across Turkey in the past week prompted a strong reaction from Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, who accused the government of turning a blind eye to the threat of the Islamic State.

Mr. Demirtas called on people to take their own security measures and stand up against terrorist acts, a statement that government officials denounced as provocative and likely to encourage further attacks.

At least 10 police officers were wounded in two explosions in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir and Hakkari on Saturday, Turkish news media reported.

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(via NY Times)