Turkey seeks approval for Iraq op against Kurdish rebels

Iraqi PM calls says his gov't is determined to halt "terrorist activities" of PKK; Assad says Turkey has right to stage cross-border offensive.

October 17, 2007 14:20
4 minute read.
Turkey seeks approval for Iraq op against Kurdish rebels

turkish troops 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Turkey's Parliament on Wednesday began debating whether to approve a possible cross-border military incursion into northern Iraq to chase separatist Kurdish rebels, despite international calls for restraint. Turkish leaders have stressed that an offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, would not immediately follow the motion authorizing the incursion. Hours before the vote, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt the "terrorist activities" of the PKK on Iraqi territory, and he emphasized the need for the two nations to continue to talk, his office said in a statement. The prime minister "expressed appreciation for Turkey's suffering from terrorist activities and spoke of his pain over the loss by the Turkish people of dozens of civilian and military martyrs during the (holy Muslim) month of Ramadan as a result of the terrorist actions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party," the statement said. In Paris, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, called on PKK rebels to stop fighting in Turkey, while also urging the Turkish government not to launch an incursion. "We consider activities of PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people first, and then against the interests of Turkey," Talabani told reporters during an official visit to the French capital. "We have asked the PKK to stop fighting, to end the so-called military activity." Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, responded by saying Turkey could "not tolerate losing any more time," the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Erdogan's aides were not immediately available to confirm the conversation. Iraq on Tuesday sent one of its two vice presidents to Ankara to call for diplomacy. "Iraq must be given the chance to stop PKK rebels who cross the border before Turkey takes any step," Anatolia quoted Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi as saying before his departure from Ankara on Wednesday. Al-Hashimi met Tuesday with Erdogan and other Turkish officials. "I got what I wanted from our talks. There is a new atmosphere to stop the current crisis," al-Hashimi was quoted as saying. On Wednesday, a NATO spokesman said alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has spoken to Turkey's president, adding his voice to international calls for restraint in the crisis with Iraq. But visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad said Turkey had a legitimate right to stage a cross-border offensive. "We understand that such an operation would be aimed toward a certain group which attacks Turkish soldiers. We support decisions that Turkey has on its agenda, we are backing them," Assad told reporters. "We accept this as Turkey's legitimate right." Turkey invited ambassadors from countries bordering Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations to a Foreign Ministry briefing on why it was passing the motion in Parliament. The motion - authorizing an attack into Iraq sometime over the next year - has backing from all of Turkey's parliamentary parties except a small Kurdish party. "Now, instead of cross-border offensives, it is time to focus on least tried methods of democratic debate and civilian solution," said Selahattin Demirtas, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party. "We will vote 'no' to the motion, and hope there will never be a need to use it," Demirtas said, adding that the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces and the opposition of Iraqi Kurds to a possible Turkish move threatened to "drag Turkey to into a political quagmire." "Even if there is a militarily successful operation, how can we prevent the emergence of a deepened problem later on?" Demirtas asked. Cemil Cicek, a deputy prime minister, told Parliament: "There is a terrorist threat against our country's unity and peace from beyond our borders. We have rights based on international laws. We are asking for your permission for a cross-border operation to eliminate this threat." "We are at the point where our patience has run out," Cicek said. Erdogan said Tuesday: "The passage of the motion in Parliament does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once. Turkey will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe." Public anger over attacks by Kurdish guerrillas is high, but Turkish officials are mindful that two dozen Iraqi campaigns since the 1980s have failed to eradicate the PKK. A cross-border attack into northern Iraq also could strain ties with the United States, a NATO ally that opposes any disruption of its efforts to stabilize Iraq. Kurdish rebels from the PKK have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey has complained about what it considers a lack of US support in the fight against the PKK. It also is frustrated with Washington, after US Congress last week approved a resolution labeling the World War 1-era killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. A resolution is an affront to Turks, who deny there was any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians.

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