ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – Turkey moved closer to opening a new front in the Iraq war Monday, with the government asking parliament to approve a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels. Still, its leaders were reluctant to stage an incursion that could hurt Turkey’s standing with Washington.

Parliament was widely expected to authorize the Cabinet’s motion seeking authorization for a military campaign in northern Iraq, and NTV television said a vote would happen Wednesday.

But government spokesman Cemil Cicek indicated the government would not immediately order its troops across the border, possibly to see if the United States and Iraq attempt to crack down on the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government twice acquired similar authorizations from the parliament in 2003, but did not act on them.

“Our hope is that there will be no need to use this motion,” Cicek said. He insisted the only target was the separatist rebel group, apparently aiming to reassure Iraq’s government in Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurds, who run their own administration in northern Iraq.

“We have always respected the sovereignty of Iraq, which is a friendly and brotherly country to us,” Cicek said. “But the reality that everyone knows is that this terrorist organization, which has bases in the north of Iraq, is attacking the territorial integrity of Turkey and its citizens.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he was prepared to hold urgent talks with Turkish leaders to try to defuse the potential crisis. He plans an emergency meeting Tuesday with close aides to discuss the situation on the border.

“We are fully confident that our friends in the Turkish government are committed, just as it is our wish, to bolstering and developing our bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect, nonintervention in the other’s internal affairs and not allowing the harmful use of each other’s territory,” al-Maliki said in a statement.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab and frequent critic of the Shiite al-Maliki, was also expected in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss the situation with Turkish leaders, a lawmaker in his party said.

U.S. officials have urged NATO-ally Turkey not to send troops into Iraq and appealed for a diplomatic solution to the problem. The Kurdish self-rule region in northern Iraq is one of the country’s few relatively stable areas and the Kurds also are a longtime U.S. ally.

Some residents in northern Iraq have called for U.S. intervention after Turkish shelling of the region over the weekend.

Col. Hussein Rashid of the Iraqi army’s border guard forces said Turkish troops fired more than 250 artillery shells and at least 10 missiles into northern Iraq. He said the shelling hit abandoned areas in the mountains and caused no casualties or damages.

The Turkish military said its troops had “responded heavily” to armed attacks from northern Iraq on Friday.

and would continue to do so.

Oil prices surged above $85 a barrel Monday, partly because of concerns that Turkish military action could disrupt oil supplies in the region.

Although the Turkish military says an Iraq operation is necessary, its civilian leaders seem acutely aware that two dozen offensives across the border since the 1980s have failed to stamp out the guerrillas. An offensive could also undermine Turkey’s relations with the United States, as well as with the European Union, which has pushed Turkey to treat its minority Kurds better.

But Turkey says some European countries tolerate the activities of PKK sympathizers. And its frustration with the perceived lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK, branded as terrorists by Washington, has intensified because of another sensitive issue: the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

A U.S. House panel approved a resolution last week labeling the killings as genocide, an affront to Turks who deny any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians at that time. U.S. officials now fear Turkey, a cargo hub for U.S. forces in Iraq, could retaliate by curbing the flow of fuel and other supplies to American bases.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said President Bush would not intervene in any vote on the genocide resolution in Congress, although the administration has tried to persuade lawmakers to reject it.

“There should be no question of the president’s views on this issue and the damage that this resolution could do to U.S. foreign policy interests,” Fratto said Monday aboard Air Force One.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution.

Some commentators say the PKK would benefit from a Turkish offensive into Iraq because Iraqi Kurds, whose ties with the PKK are uneasy, would see a common enemy in the invaders. Moreover, Turkey could isolate itself on the international stage by echoing, albeit in a limited way, the unpopular U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Senior PKK rebel commander Duran Kalkan said the Turkish military would suffer a serious blow if it launched an offensive, saying it would “be bogged down in a quagmire,” the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported.

During the 1990s, Turkish troops penetrated Iraqi territory on numerous occasions, sometimes with as many as 50,000 troops. The Turkish forces withdrew, leaving behind about 2,000 soldiers who remain to monitor rebel activities.

The separatists have been fighting the Turkish government since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.



Associated Press Writer Hamza Hendawi contributed to this report from Baghdad.

AP-ES-10-15-07 1635EDT


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