ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will defy international pressure on Wednesday and grant its troops permission to enter northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels based there, though it has played down expectations of any imminent attack.
Washington, Ankara’s NATO ally, says it understands Turkey’s desire to tackle rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but fears a major incursion would wreck stability in the most peaceful part of Iraq and potentially in the wider region.
Turkey’s stance has helped drive global oil prices to $88 a barrel, a new record, and has hit its lira currency as investors weigh the economic risks of any major military operation.
Parliamentary approval would create the legal basis for military action, essentially giving the army a free hand to act as and when it sees fit.
By law, Turkey’s parliament must approve the deployment of Turkish troops abroad. Parliament is expected to approve the request from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet by a large majority following an open debate.
“Passage of this motion does not mean an immediate incursion will follow, but we will act at the right time and under the right conditions,” Erdogan told his ruling AK Party on Tuesday.
“This is about self-defense,” he said in televised remarks.
Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi lobbied Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Tuesday to refrain from military action and to seek a diplomatic solution.
Erdogan is under heavy public pressure to hit the PKK camps in northern Iraq after a series of deadly rebel attacks on Turkish troops.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asked about possible Turkish action in northern Iraq, made a veiled appeal for restraint. “Any measures by any country should not create any concerns,” he told reporters in New York.
“We are going through a very difficult and sensitive period in Iraq. We need full cooperation and support from the countries in the region,” he said, noting that Turkey would host an international conference on Iraq in early November.
Washington and Baghdad have so far failed to take action against the estimated 3,000 PKK guerrillas hiding in northern Iraq, despite repeated Turkish appeals over a number of years.
Ankara knows Baghdad has little clout in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, whose leaders have consistently refused to take up arms against their ethnic kin in the PKK. Washington’s own forces are sorely stretched in central and southern Iraq.
Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. National Security Council adviser visiting Ankara on Tuesday, said Washington should have done more to address Turkish concerns about the PKK.
“We have taken some steps but they have been very inadequate and we are trying to improve cooperation between Iraq and Turkey on dealing with that,” he told Reuters.
He said that any Turkish incursion into northern Iraq was likely to destabilize the area and complicate an already complex situation there.
“But also the Turks are an ally and they are suffering from PKK activities across the border, so it’s a balancing act,” he added.
Turkish opposition parties strongly back the plan for military action, with only the small pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) expressing concern about the implications.
“Military methods alone cannot bring a solution,” DTP leader Ahmet Turk said.
Many Turks regard the DTP as a mouthpiece for the PKK, which Ankara blames for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Turkey conducted large military operations in northern Iraq against the PKK in the 1990s but failed to wipe out the rebels.
Some analysts say that despite its tough rhetoric Turkey may limit itself to aerial bombardment of rebel targets and small forays across the border while avoiding a major incursion.
Additional reporting by Paul de Bendern and Patrick Worsnip