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Sibel Utku Bila
17 Oct 2007 17:18
The Turkish Parliament Wednesday voted to allow military strikes against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, despite stiff United States opposition and appeals from Baghdad for time to purge the rebels.
A government motion seeking a one-year authorisation for one or more incursions into Iraq was approved with the support of 507 lawmakers in the 550-seat house, with 19 voting against.
The motion leaves it up to the government to determine the timing and scope of the operation and the number of troops to be sent.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed that parliamentary approval would not mean immediate military action, signalling that there could be still room for diplomacy.
Both Baghdad and Washington scrambled to dissuade Ankara from following through on military action.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he was determined to act against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which attacks Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq.
The PKK has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in south-east Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37 000 lives.
Maliki told Erdogan on the telephone that Baghdad “is absolutely determined to end the activities and the presence” of the PKK in Iraq, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported, quoting unnamed sources.
He also asked for “a new opportunity” to resolve the issue through diplomatic means and proposed talks.
Erdogan welcomed the proposal but warned that Ankara cannot tolerate any “further waste of time”.
In Washington, President George Bush said the US was “making it very clear to Turkey that we don’t think it is in their interests” to send troops into Iraq.
“There’s a better way to deal with the issue,” Bush told a press conference.
But Washington has lost its leverage with Ankara because of a pending Congressional vote on a resolution branding the 1915 to 1917 Ottoman massacres of Armenians as genocide.
Turkey strongly rejects the “genocide” tag and has threatened unspecified reprisals against its Nato ally.
Turkey says the PKK enjoys free movement in northern Iraq, is tolerated by local Kurdish leaders and obtains weapons and explosives there for attacks across the border in Turkey.
Faced with mounting rebel violence, Ankara says it is left with no choice but military action because neither Washington nor Baghdad is helping to curb the rebels.
Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who held emergency talks with Turkish leaders on Tuesday, said Baghdad should be given time to curb the PKK under an agreement the two countries signed last month.
“Give us time to join forces with Turkey to tackle this problem,” he said Wednesday before he left Ankara.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, also urged Turkey to give up plans of military action and called on the PKK to end violence.
The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq warned that a Turkish incursion would be “illegal and a violation of international law”.
The PKK problem is an “internal Turkish problem”, spokesperson Jamal Abdullah insisted.
Erdogan came under pressure for tougher action after the rebels killed 15 soldiers in two days this month and were blamed for an ambush of a van days earlier in which 12 people were shot dead.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Turkey, said on Wednesday that Damascus would back a Turkish incursion to pursue the PKK, saying it was “Turkey’s legitimate right”.
Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop de Scheffer, meanwhile, urged “the greatest possible restraint, precisely in this time of great tensions”.—AFP
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