Turkey Authorizes Iraq Incursion

Turkish soldiers patrol on a road in the southeastern province of Sirnak, along the border with Iraq, on the day that cross-border actions were authorized.
Turkish soldiers patrol on a road in the southeastern province of Sirnak, along the border with Iraq, on the day that cross-border actions were authorized. (By Kadir Konuksever -- Associated Press)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 18, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey, Oct. 17 -- The Turkish parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly authorized cross-border military attacks in northern Iraq against Kurdish separatist rebels, as world leaders pleaded for restraint.

Lawmakers voted 507 to 19 to give Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan permission to order strategic strikes or large-scale invasions of Iraq for a one-year period. Erdogan has said he will not order an immediate attack.

Throughout 2 1/2 hours of debate, legislators expressed frustration that the United States and Iraq have not kept promises to curb the activities of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, which the United States and European Union have classified as a terrorist organization.

As the votes were tallied in Turkey's modernistic legislative chamber here, President Bush told reporters at a White House news conference that "we are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interest to send troops into Iraq."

In the hours leading up to the vote, Turkish leaders were besieged with last-minute telephone calls from across the globe, imploring against military action on grounds that it could inflame the only relatively stable region of war-ravaged Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki telephoned Erdogan, asking for more time to take action against PKK rebels who have largely been allowed to operate freely in northern Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He said he has given "strict instructions" to the regional Kurdish administration in Iraq's north to crack down on PKK operations and said Iraqi forces could join the Turkish army in military operations "if necessary," according to the Anatolian news agency. Erdogan's office denied there was an offer of joint military action.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer phoned Turkish President Abdullah Gul and urged Turkey to "exercise the greatest possible restraint, particularly in this time of great tension," James Appathurai, a spokesman for the alliance, said at a briefing in Brussels. Turkey has the second-largest military in NATO.

Gul rebuffed Scheffer, according to Turkish accounts, echoing the comments of many lawmakers during Wednesday's legislative debate in saying, "Terrorism cannot be presented as excusable in any way and Turkey will obviously take any measure to stop these heinous attacks," Turkish news agencies reported.

Only the small, pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party opposed the parliamentary resolution, arguing that military action would worsen the economic plight of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday accused the United States and the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq of giving PKK leaders and fighters free rein to run their headquarters and training camps and plot attacks on Turkey, despite a 2003 agreement to assist in curbing rebel operations inside Iraq.

"They are furious, and they wish to see somebody get a hold of the PKK," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "Ideally it would be the Kurdish government, and that's who we are pressuring to deal with the terrorists in their midst."

In Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq, people expressed anger over the Turkish moves. Faisal Muhammad Abbas, 28, a university student, said that Turkey wants to bring "disaster" to his part of the country. "They think if Kurdistan will continue improving in Iraq this will be a motive for the Kurds in Turkey to call for the same thing and fight for it." Some Kurds say they have already fled their homes because of Turkish shelling.

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