Raids into Iraq approved

Turkey's parliament authorizes military to pursue Kurdish rebels

October 18, 2007|By Yesim Borg, Tracy Wilkinson and Peter Spiegel | Yesim Borg, Tracy Wilkinson and Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANKARA, Turkey -- In a nearly unanimous vote, Turkey's parliament authorized the government and military yesterday to launch cross-border raids into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish separatists.

It was the latest action to increase tensions in the region, with Iraqi Kurdish regional forces, known as peshmerga, going on high alert. Turkish action could escalate violence in an area of relative stability.

Ignoring pleas for restraint from Washington, Baghdad and other capitals, Turkish lawmakers approved the request from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send counter-terrorism troops into Iraq at any time during the next year.

The vote was 507 in favor to 19 against, with most of the opposing votes coming from Kurdish members of parliament.

"We are at the point where our patience has run out," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said before parliament.

But Erdogan and other senior officials indicated that an invasion was not imminent.

The government is hoping the threat will pressure Iraqi and U.S. forces to act against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who have been attacking Turkish targets then taking shelter in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. Earlier this month, Kurdish rebels killed 13 Turkish soliders in southeast Turkey, one of their deadliest attacks ever.

The U.S. has labeled the PKK a terrorist organization but, already overextended elsewhere in Iraq, has been unwilling to open another front by taking on the Kurdish rebels.

In Washington, President Bush urged Turkey to exercise restraint, arguing that the Iraqi government is aware of Turkish anger over cross-border attacks by the PKK and has sent envoys to Ankara to convince them it shares the concerns.

"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq," Bush told reporters.

According to the Pentagon, 70 percent of supplies for U.S. troops in Iraq are transported through Turkey, and Turkish threats to cut off access to its airspace or its Incirlik air base would leave the U.S. scrambling for alternative routes.

Iraq, also intent on averting a Turkish incursion and its potentially destabilizing repercussions, pledged yesterday to work on halting PKK attacks.

"We consider PKK activities against the interests of the Kurdish people first, and then against the interests of Turkey," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, told reporters in Paris.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki telephoned Erdogan to ask for more time to crack down on the PKK, according to Turkey's semi-official Anatolia news agency. Al-Maliki's office confirmed the call but not the details.

Yesim Borg, Tracy Wilkinson and Peter Spiegel write for the Los Angeles Times.

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