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Turkey May Request Incursion Into Iraq
ANKARA - Turkey's prime minister will ask parliament next week to authorize a military push into north Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels amid Turkish anger on Thursday at a U.S. vote branding Ottoman Turk killings of Armenians genocide.
Analysts say a large Turkish cross-border incursion remains unlikely, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government will seek authorization for it after a public holiday which ends on Sunday, a ruling party member told Reuters.
Washington fears an offensive could destabilize Iraq's most peaceful area and potentially the wider region, but Erdogan has been under mounting pressure to act after Wednesday's vote on the highly sensitive issue of the killings in 1915 of Armenians.
The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a resolution branding the killings genocide -- a charge Turkey hotly denies. The resolution was proposed by a politician with many Armenian-Americans in his district.
The United States relies on Turkish bases to supply its war effort in Iraq. Any Turkish offensive into northern Iraq would seriously strain ties with Washington and possibly hurt Turkey's European Union accession bid.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana warned Turkey against a possible incursion. "Any possibility of complicating even more the security situation in Iraq should not be welcome and therefore that's the message that we passed to our Turkish friends," he said.
Ankara says 3,000 rebels from the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are based in northern Iraq from where they stage deadly attacks into Turkey.
"The resolution won't go to parliament today. It will be sent to parliament after Bayram (public holiday)," the senior ruling AK Party politician, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The holiday begins on Friday and ends on Sunday.
The Turkish government cautioned that relations with its NATO ally would be harmed by the U.S. committee's decision. The non-binding resolution now goes to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democratic leaders say there will be a vote by mid-November.
Ankara will lobby Congress to prevent the bill from being approved. Erdogan is due to travel to Washington in early November for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush.
The Bush administration on Wednesday urged Turkey not to take any "concrete" action after the congressional committee angered Ankara by passing the Armenia genocide resolution.
"The problem that we have is that this is clearly a very sensitive subject for one of our closest allies and an ally that is incredibly important to the United States in terms of our operations in Iraq," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in London on Thursday.
Potential moves could include blocking U.S. access to the Incirlik air base, cancelling procurement contracts, downscaling bilateral visits and joint military exercises, diplomats say.
The committee's decision on Wednesday is expected to weaken U.S. influence over Turkey, which has NATO's second-largest army, at a time when the government ponders whether to push for the military operation into mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.
"Unfortunately there is a linkage between the bill and a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq because the Turkish public will be much angered towards the United States and the government will feel so as well," Faruk Logoglu, an influential former Turkish ambassador to Washington, told Reuters.
"However I think the madness of the Armenian bill wouldn't be a green light for an incursion into northern Iraq. On the contrary the U.S. should, and may, do something against the PKK to please the Turkish state and its people," he said.
Turkey's military has frequently called on the government to give them the green light to pursue the PKK -- which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the EU -- into Iraq.
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 troops going into northern Iraq.
Big incursions by Turkey in 1995 and 1997, involving an estimated 35,000 and 50,000 troops respectively, failed to dislodge the rebels.
A senior Turkish diplomat told Reuters Ankara was disappointed with what he said was U.S. and Iraqi failure so far to stop the PKK. He said the government was still holding out that their counterparts would deal with the rebels.
(Additional reporting by Evren Mesci in Ankara, Emma Ross-Thomas in Istanbul, Sue Pleming in Washington and David Brunnstrom in Brussels)
© 2007 Reuters