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Turkey Not Likely to Launch Immediate Iraq Operation Against Rebel Kurds

Turkey indicated on Tuesday that an offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq would not immediately follow an expected authorization from Parliament amid soaring oil prices and international calls for restraint.

Iraq urged Turkey not to send troops across the border to pursue separatist Kurds in mountain hideouts, dispatching the Sunni vice president to Ankara and calling for "a diplomatic solution" to tensions that have raised fears of a new front in the Iraq war.

Tareq al-Hashemi, one Iraq's two vice presidents, met Tuesday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials, a day before Turkey's Parliament is expected to approve a motion allowing the government to order a cross-border attack sometime over the next year.

"The passage of the motion in Parliament does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once," Erdogan said Tuesday. "Turkey will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe."

Public anger over attacks by Kurdish guerrillas is high but Turkish officials are mindful that two dozen Iraqi campaigns since the 1980s have failed to eradicate the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. A cross-border attack into northern Iraq could also strain ties with the United States, a NATO ally that opposes any disruption of its efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery rose US$1.94 to US$87.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday after rising as high as US$88.20 earlier, a trading record. Traders attributed the surge partly to concern about disruptions in Middle Eastern crude oil supplies as a result of any Turkish military action in Iraq.

"Whenever there is any escalation in political tensions in the Middle East, oil markets become concerned," said David Moore, a commodity strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. "There is production and there are pipelines that people worry may be affected if there are any issues in Iraq."

Any impact on Turkey's economy, which recovered strongly from an economic crisis in 2001, is a likely factor in the government's deliberations on whether to send troops into Iraq.

Gazi Ercel, a former central bank governor, said an incursion could trigger falls in the Turkish stock market and currency, as well as uneasiness among foreign investors and a perception of Turkey as a "risky place" to do business.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency warned that a Turkish incursion into Iraq could exacerbate what is already the Middle's East's worst refugee crisis since the 1940s.

"I can only express our very deep concern about any development that might lead to meaningful displacements of populations in that sensitive area," said Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Guterres said violence in Iraq had forced 4 million Iraqis to flee their homes, and that Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq is one of the few relatively stable areas in the country. Iraqis from the southern and central parts of the country fled there in search of security.

Erdogan called on Iraq and Iraqi Kurds to crack down on Turkish Kurd rebels on their territory. He said the regional administration in northern Iraq should "build a thick wall between itself and terrorist organizations."

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the Iraqi government would not tolerate violence from the separatist rebels. But he urged Turkey to "seek a diplomatic solution and not a military one in dealing with the terrorist threats that target it."

Al-Maliki said he was dispatching a "high-level" political and security team to Turkey.

Kurdish rebels from the PKK have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. On Tuesday, a Turkish soldier was killed when he stepped on a mine, believed to have been planted by Kurdish rebels, near the southeastern city of Bingol, authorities said.

Turkey has complained about what they consider a lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK, a frustration with Washington 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. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution, one U.S. President George W. Bush opposes.

Egemen Bagis, a foreign policy adviser to Erdogan, said Turkey should not punish the Bush administration over the resolution but instead should react against Pelosi and her supporters, as well as impose sanctions against Armenia for supporting the measure.

Erdogan compared the resolution to a "summary execution."

"Nobody has the right to judge Turkey like this," Erdogan said in a televised speech Tuesday. "Those who dare confront an important country like Turkey will pay the price."