Turkey Requests Authority to Attack

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ISTANBUL, Oct. 15 -- The Turkish government asked parliament Monday for a one-year authorization to conduct military operations in northern Iraq to attack Kurdish separatist guerrillas, but senior government officials attempted to play down the prospects of an immediate attack.

"It is impossible to speak for certain on a possible cross-border operation if the parliament approves it," Gen. Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of the Turkish General Staff, told reporters, according to the Anatolian news agency. "We will look at the season and go over our needs before launching a military operation."

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said that "our hope is that we will not have to use this motion." But he added: "The reality that everyone knows is that this terrorist organization, which has bases in the north of Iraq, is attacking the territorial integrity of Turkey and its citizens.

"The motion targets PKK alone and is designed to prevent further bloodshed," Cicek said after a Council of Ministers meeting Monday, using the Kurdish-language initials of the Kurdistan Workers' Party. "We have always respected the sovereignty of Iraq, which is a friendly and brotherly country to us."

The parliament is widely expected to approve the authorization later this week.

Oil prices soared to a new high of just over $86 a barrel on Monday, largely on fears that Turkish military action could disrupt supplies as winter nears, industry analysts said.

The Turkish government sought the legislative authorization following a spate of attacks that have killed 30 soldiers, police officers and civilians in the past two weeks. There is also growing frustration that the United States and Iraq have done little to curb separatist activities in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

PKK rebels seeking a Kurdish state have waged a guerrilla war against Turkey for the past 23 years. During the 1990s, Turkey conducted numerous incursions into northern Iraq, but since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration has pressured Turkey not to cross the border.

U.S. authorities have urged Turkey to use restraint in military operations, fearful of igniting one of the few relatively stable regions in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he has scheduled an emergency meeting Tuesday with top aides to discuss the border problems and is prepared to meet with Turkish officials to calm the crisis.

"We are fully confident that our friends in the Turkish government are committed, just as it is our wish, to bolstering and developing our bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect, nonintervention in the other's internal affairs and not allowing the harmful use of each other's territory," Maliki said in a statement.

The tension over Turkey-Iraq border issues has been compounded by a U.S. House committee's approval last week of a resolution labeling as genocide the deaths and disappearances of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during the last years of the Ottoman Empire.

The measure enraged Turkish officials, who argue that the killings were the result of a brutal war that also took the lives of many Ottoman Turks.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company