By Gareth Jones
ANKARA, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A large majority of Turks support a military incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels using the region as a base, according to an opinion poll published on Friday.
The survey, conducted in October by Pollmark, also showed a continued decline in Turkish support for joining the European Union and reconfirmed Turks’ negative view of the United States, viewed here as the main threat to Middle East peace.
The number of people saying Turkey should conduct a cross-border military operation against militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) stood at 81 percent, up sharply from 46 percent in the last poll in July.
The poll was conducted before 12 soldiers were killed in an Oct. 21 clash with PKK rebels near the Iraqi border and before Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held crisis talks in the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush.
Ankara has massed up to 100,000 troops near the border in the past month in preparation for a possible incursion after about 50 security personnel were killed in PKK attacks.
Turkey’s second highest-ranking general, Ilker Basbug, said on Thursday Turkey is already "in the process of implementing" a cross-border operation, but did not elaborate. There were no signs of increased military activity in the area, however, and no indication matters had progressed beyond preparation.
Washington and Baghdad have urged Ankara not to make a major incursion, fearing this would destabilise the whole region. But Bush has pledged to share intelligence with Turkey to help it identity and tackle the guerrillas.
In the survey, terrorism was named as the biggest problem facing Turkey, ahead of unemployment and other economic issues.
The survey also showed support for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has 20 members of parliament, has dwindled even among its main Kurdish voter base.
On Friday, state prosecutors opened a court case against the DTP, saying it was trying to undermine Turkish national unity.
Support for Erdogan’s ruling centre-right AK Party, which won a large majority in July parliamentary elections, and for Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which strongly backs military action against the PKK, edged higher.
ANTI-AMERICAN, WARY OF EU
Despite U.S. offers of help for NATO ally Turkey in fighting the PKK, the poll showed the number of Turks with a negative view of the United States had risen to 86 percent from 49 percent in November 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Many Turks fear U.S. policy is leading towards the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, a move they believe could reignite separatism among Turkey’s own large ethnic Kurdish population. Turks are also angry about U.S. failure to tackle the estimated 3,000 PKK rebels hiding in northern Iraq, close to the border with Turkey.
The survey showed support for Turkey’s European Union membership bid had fallen to 51 percent from 52 percent in July, with 40 percent now opposed to joining. A few years ago, support for EU membership was above 70 percent.
Turks with higher education were most opposed to joining the bloc.
The EU’s image has suffered greatly in Turkey after its failure to lift trade restrictions against Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island of Cyprus and after calls by French and German leaders to deny Ankara full membership.
The Pollmark survey canvassed the views of 2,982 people in 12 cities across Turkey on Oct. 17-20. Its findings were unveiled at a briefing at the Seta think-tank. (Editing by Catherine Evans)