October 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's parliament today gave the government authority to enter northern Iraq and tackle Kurdish guerrillas based there.
Turkey has long been vexed about the several thousand militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are operating from bases in northern Iraq. But an escalation in deadly cross-border attacks in recent weeks has led to increased calls in Turkey to take action against the rebels.
By a large majority, lawmakers today approved a government request to allow troops to cross into northern Iraq to battle Kurdish rebels in the area. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on October 16 that authorization would not mean immediate military action. "Necessary action will be taken in proper time on the proper ground," he said. "Actions beyond the border will be taken -- and I underscore it again -- only against the terrorists."
U.S. officials say they understand Ankara wants to deal with the PKK fighters who have been waging an armed campaign for self-rule in Turkey in a conflict that goes back 20 years. But Washington has also warned that any incursion into northern Iraq could destabilize the region.
Tensions have already sent world oil prices soaring to record highs of around $88 a barrel, while the head of the UN refugee agency has said Turkish action could mean more people displaced in the region, where violence has already forced more than 4 million Iraqis to flee their homes. NATO said today that Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called Turkish President Abdullah Gul to call for restraint.
And Iraqi officials have urged a diplomatic solution. Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, in Ankara for talks with Turkish leaders, said today that Iraq needed more time to tackle the rebels, while President Jalal Talabani, who's also abroad, said, "We hope that the wisdom of our friend, Prime Minister Erdogan, will be so active that there will be no military intervention, and we, the Iraq government and the Kurdistan regional government, are ready to cooperate with Turkish authorities to reach agreement."
But Turkey has gotten approval from one foreign source -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who said on a visit to Turkey today that Damascus viewed a possible incursion as Ankara's "legitimate right." That's ironic, since it was Syria that, a decade ago, was under severe pressure from Turkey over Kurdish rebels on its territory.
Kamran al-Karadaghi, a former chief of staff for Iraqi President Talabani, says many in Turkey have noted the seeming parallel. "If you follow the Turkish press, commentators, you feel [that] the Turkish government and the military think they will have this experience like they had with Syria," he said. "They put a lot of pressure on Syria, they employed their army on a huge scale along Syria's borders, and Syria caved in [and] kicked [PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan [out] from Syria."
Diplomatic efforts look set to continue beyond today's vote. Iraq's government said on October 16 it would send a high-level delegation to Turkey for more talks.
(with material from agency reports)
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