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World News

Turk PM may request N.Iraq incursion on Thursday

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may ask parliament on Thursday to authorise a military incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels using the region as a base.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is seen in Ankara October 2, 2007. Erdogan may ask parliament on Thursday to authorise a military incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels using the region as a base. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Erdogan is under pressure to act after rebel attacks that have killed 15 soldiers since Sunday, but political analysts say a major cross-border operation remains unlikely.

“A request for approval for a cross-border operation could be sent to parliament tomorrow,” Erdogan said on Wednesday. “After the holiday (this weekend) we plan to gain authorisation for one year.”

A large incursion would strain ties with the United States and the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join, and could undermine regional stability. Russia also urged restraint.

Washington, which relies on Turkish bases to supply its war effort in Iraq, has cautioned against an incursion.

“We do not think it would be the best place for troops to go into Iraq from Turkey at this time,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

“We have said that we want to work with the Turkish government and the Iraqis ... to eradicate the terrorist problem there in northern Iraq.”

In Washington, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee approved a resolution calling massacres of Armenians during World War One genocide, despite White House warnings that such a decision would harm ties with Turkey.

“This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror,” President George W. Bush said at the White House.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul called the committee’s approval of the resolution “unacceptable”.

“Unfortunately some politicians in the United States of America have closed their ears to calls to be reasonable and once again sought to sacrifice big problems for small domestic political games,” Gul was quoted as saying by the state news agency Anatolian.

“NOT LIKELY”

Parliament, where Erdogan’s ruling centre-right AK Party has a big majority, would have to grant permission for troops to cross the border into Iraq. Passing the measure would not automatically mean Turkish troops going into northern Iraq.

A Turkish minister said military intervention in Iraq was not likely right away.

“We do not want to go into Iraq ... What happens in northern Iraq is not of interest right away. We are fighting against militants within Turkey,” Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay told Reuters in an interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Ankara blames rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) 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.

Large-scale incursions by Turkey into northern Iraq in 1995 and 1997, involving an estimated 35,000 and 50,000 troops respectively, failed to dislodge the rebels.

Turkey’s military, the second biggest in NATO, launched a fresh offensive on Wednesday against PKK rebels in Tunceli province in the east of the country, television reported.

Iraq and Turkey recently signed an anti-terrorism accord, but Baghdad refused Ankara’s request to allow Turkish troops to chase rebels across their shared border if the need arose.

Ankara is also aware Baghdad lacks clout in mainly Kurdish northern Iraq, whose autonomous administration has repeatedly rejected Turkish demands for a crackdown on the PKK.

The Foreign Affairs Committee approved the “genocide” resolution 27-21. It now goes to the House floor, where Democratic leaders say there will be a vote by mid-November. There is a companion bill in the Senate but both measures are strictly symbolic, and do not require the president’s signature.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said the Bush administration was “deeply disappointed” by the vote but hoped Turkey, “one of our most valued and important allies worldwide”, would not retaliate with any “concrete” action.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to call her Turkish counterpart early on Thursday, he said.

Turkey calls the resolution an insult and rejects the Armenian position, backed by many Western historians, that up to 1.5 million Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War One.

Turkey has warned of damage to bilateral ties if Congress passes the measure.

Additional reporting by Gareth Jones, Matt Spetalnick; Peter Starck and Hakan Ersen in Frankfurt

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