Parliament in Turkey Votes to Allow Iraq Incursion
ISTANBUL - Turkey's parliament voted today to give the government authority to send troops into northern Iraq, moving this NATO country one step closer to a military confrontation with Iraq over Kurdish rebels who hide there.
Turkish lawmakers voted 507 to 19 in favor of the motion, which was supported by all but one of Turkey's political parties and seemed to broadly reflect the wishes of the Turkish public.
It gives the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a year to launch an offensive against ethnic Kurds who carry out attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq.
But even as the parliament voted, officials in several different countries were working strenuously to avert military action, and Turkish officials said that the motion's passage does not necessarily mean it will be applied.
In Washington, President Bush reacted to the decision by urging Turkey not to launch a major incursion into northern Iraq, Reuters reported.
"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq," he said at a news conference, following the vote in Turkey, Reuters reported. "Actually, they have troops already stationed in Iraq," he said. "We don't think it's in their interests to send more troops in."
Ahead of the vote, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, called Mr. Erdogan to say that the Iraqi government was determined to end the rebel activities in his country, in an attempt to head off any Turkish military offensive.
"Let's do whatever necessary together," Mr. Maliki said according to the semi-official Anatolian News Agency.
On Tuesday, Iraq dispatched one of its vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, to Ankara in a last-ditch effort to talk Turkey out of a military incursion. He sounded hopeful before leaving the country this morning. "There is a new atmosphere to stop the current crisis," Mr. Hashimi said to reporters, the private NTV network reported. "The Iraqi government should be given a chance to prevent cross-border terror activities," he said.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, in Ankara on a three-day official visit, expressed support for Turkey's efforts against Kurdish rebels, and said the American-led forces in Iraq bore a responsibility to support Turkey.
"It is important to note that the powers that have invaded Iraq are those primarily responsible for the terror activities and attacks because they control the country," President Assad said, according to the Anatolian News Agency. "We certainly support and back the decisions by the Turkish government in combat against terror and terror activities."
NATO, however, urged restraint ahead of the parliament vote in a telephone call by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, to the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul. "He expressed his view that all parties should exercise the greatest possible restraint, particularly in this time of great tension," the Anatolian News Agency quoted a NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, as saying in Brussels.
In Turkey, ahead of the vote, the speaker of the parliament, Cemil Cicek, said: "After so many incidents we are at the point where patience has run out. We are, however, a great nation and a great state. What suits a great nation is the exercise of patience at the point where patience has run out, to find the right way and lock on to the right target."
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, DTP, which holds 20 of the parliament's 548 seats, said today that any military movement in the area would bring further instability to a region already struggling with conflict.
But Selahattin Demirtas, taking the floor during the debate on behalf of the DTP, failed to garner enough backing to counter the motion. There was overwhelming support for the bill among parliamentarians who are anxious to take firm action in the face of growing P.K.K. attacks in recent weeks.
Three major military operations in the past, one of which engaged as many as 200,000 troops in 1997 following the granting of a similar parliamentary authority, achieved little progress in preventing the P.K.K. violence, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives in more than 20 years.
Turkish foreign ministry officials in Ankara briefed representatives of countries neighboring Iraq, as well as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the Group of 8 countries on the latest situation as well as the details of today's parliamentary motion, a ministry spokesperson said.
"Passage of the motion does not mean that there would be military action inside Iraq the next day," the foreign ministry spokesperson said. "By the nature of our work, diplomacy always has the priority."
Sebnem Arsu reported from Istanbul and Sabrina Tavernise from Jordan.
© 2007 The New York Times