ANKARA, Turkey – The Turkish government will seek parliamentary approval for a military operation against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, a government spokesman said Monday, taking action on one of two major issues straining relations with Washington.
The spokesman, Cemil Cicek, said he hoped Parliament would vote on the motion this week — passage is considered likely — but indicated that the government would still prefer a solution to the conflict that does not involve a cross-border offensive.
"Our hope is that there will be no need to use this motion," Cicek said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government twice acquired similar authorizations from the Parliament in 2003, but did not act on them.
Cicek insisted the only target was the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK.
"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."
The statement appeared to be aimed at reassuring Iraq's central government as well as Iraqi Kurds, who run their own administration in northern Iraq.
Fighting along the border with Iraq was reported over the weekend, where Turkey's military said it "responded heavily" to attacks from northern Iraq by Kurdish fighters on Friday. Iraqi Kurds reported that Turkish artillery hit their territory.
Senior rebel commander Duran Kalkan said the Turkish military would suffer a serious blow if it launches a cross-border offensive, saying it would "be bogged down in a quagmire," the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported Monday.
Oil prices rose Monday, partly reflecting concerns over a conflict that could open up a new front in the Iraq war. Light, sweet crude for November delivery hit a new high of $85.19 a barrel before retreating in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midafternoon in Europe.
Cabinet ministers also were expected to debate retaliatory measures if the U.S. Congress passes a resolution that labels the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.
A U.S. House panel approved the resolution last week, infuriating Turkish leaders who said ties with their NATO ally would suffer.
At issue in the resolution is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Many international historians contend the World War I-era deaths amounted to genocide, but Turkey says the mass killings and deportations were not systematic and that many Turkish Muslims died in the chaos of war.
Turkish anger over the genocide resolution has led to commentary that Turkey would be less likely to take into account U.S. opposition to a unilateral Turkish action in Iraq, which could destabilize a relatively peaceful part of the country.
Turkey's top general warned over the weekend that military ties between Turkey and the United States could be seriously damaged if the genocide resolution passes Congress.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said President Bush had no plans to intervene in the vote, although the administration has been lobbying intensely to persuade lawmakers to reject the resolution.
"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 told reporters Monday aboard Air Force One.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution.
Fratto said the White House does not want Pelosi to bring it to the floor; should it come to a vote, he said, "We will strongly encourage members not to support it."
Turkey, a major cargo hub for U.S. forces in Iraq, has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned that there might be a cut in logistical support to the United States.
About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military there. U.S. bases also get water and other supplies carried in by Turkish truckers who cross into Iraq's northern Kurdish region.
In 1975, Washington imposed an arms embargo that lasted three years against Ankara following its invasion of Cyprus, using U.S. weapons. Turkey, a Cold War ally of the United States, responded by limiting U.S. military and intelligence activities on its soil.
Turkey has urged the United States and Iraq to crack down on PKK rebels who have been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984.