ANKARA, Turkey – An army commander hinted Thursday that Turkey was in preparing for a cross-border operation into northern Iraq, saying it was "implementing a parliamentary authorization" that allows the military to stage an incursion.
Turkey's parliament last month gave the government the green light to order an operation into neighboring Iraq to dislodge separatist Kurdish rebels from camps in the north of the country.
Land Forces' Commander Gen. Ilker Basbug was quoted by the state-run Anatolia news agency as saying: "we have entered the process of implementing the authorization."
"Of course, when or how the authorization would be implemented, that's another matter," the agency quoted him as saying.
Basbug said that, although a cross-border operation would not eradicate the rebel group — the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK — it would deal a blow to the guerrillas, according to private NTV television.
"In the same way that it would be wrong to think that a cross-border operation would end terrorism, it would be wrong to think that such an operation would not yields any results," NTV quoted the general as telling reporters during a reception.
Turkey's government is under intense pressure to crack down on the PKK, which operates from bases in northern Iraq.
Turkey, which has demanded that the U.S. and Iraq take action against the guerrillas, has massed tens of thousands of soldiers along the border with Iraq. The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey, a NATO member, to avoid a large-scale attack on rebel bases in northern Iraq.
Turkey said Wednesday the United States had started sharing real-time intelligence that would help Turkey hit Kurdish rebel hideouts.
On Thursday, thousands of Turks attended the funerals of four soldiers slain in a clash against Kurdish guerrillas two days earlier, denouncing the separatist group and vowing to take revenge.
In the town of Kesap in northern Turkey, about 15,000 people attended the funeral of Ozkan Kilic — who died in fighting near the border with Iraq on Tuesday — holding up Turkish flags and shouting "Martyrs are eternal, the land will never be divided" and "down with the PKK!"
Young people carried banners that read: "The youth of Kesap are coming to eradicate the root (of the PKK)" and "We are ready to die for this land."
President Abdullah Gul joined thousands of mourners attending the funerals of Gokhan Yavuz and Gokhan Soylu, whose coffins, draped with the Turkish flag, were transported side by side on a gun carriage. A fourth funeral was held in the village of Incesu, in Igdir province, near the border with Iran.
More than 50 Turkish soldiers have been killed in a series of hit-and-run attacks by Kurdish rebels since late September.