Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Turkish parliament approves possible military action in Iraq

October 18, 2007

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— Parliament authorized the government Wednesday to send troops into northern Iraq to root out Kurdish rebels who've been conducting raids into Turkey. The vote removed the last legal obstacle to an offensive, but there was no sign of imminent action as the United States urged restraint.

Turkish leaders, under pressure from Washington and Baghdad, have signaled they would not immediately give the order to send in 60,000 soldiers, armor and attack helicopters into a region that has largely escaped the chaos of the Iraq war.

The crisis along the border, where the Turkish troops have massed since summer, has driven up oil prices along with tensions between Turkey and its longtime NATO ally, the United States.

President Bush said the U.S. was making clear to Turkey that it should not stage a major army operation in the Iraqi north, much of which has escaped the sustained violence and political discord common in the rest of Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Bush said Turkey has had troops stationed in northern Iraq "for quite a while," a reference to about 1,500 soldiers deployed for years to monitor the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, with the permission of Iraqi Kurd authorities.

"We don't think it's in their interest to send more troops in," he said.

While they now have the authority to strike at PKK bases used to stage attacks in Turkey, the country's leaders appear to be holding back in hopes the threat of an incursion will prod Iraq and the U.S. to move against the guerrillas.

The Turkish military, which had little success when it last carried out a major incursion into Iraq a decade ago with 50,000 soldiers, estimates 3,800 Turkish Kurd guerrillas operate from Iraq territory and 2,300 are inside Turkey.

As Parliament voted 507-19 to approve military operations against PKK fighters in northern Iraq over the next year, Turkey's government moved to explain its decision to its Arab neighbors, sending Foreign Minister Ali Babacan to both Egypt and Lebanon.

Oil prices surged briefly to a record $89 a barrel after the vote. Traders worry that any escalation in the conflict will cut oil supplies from northern Iraq.

Hours before the vote, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to say Iraq's government was determined to halt "terrorist activities" of the PKK on Iraqi territory, his office said.

A close aide to al-Maliki said later that the two leaders agreed the Iraqis should deal with PKK fighters based inside Iraq and the Turks would take care of guerrillas operating in Turkish territory.

But Erdogan warned that Iraq must rein in the guerrillas, the aide said. "If you don't solve the problem now, we will have no choice but to pursue the PKK inside Iraq," he quoted the Turkish leader as saying.

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