Turkish Cabinet Debates Possible Iraq Incursion, Genocide Resolution

The Turkish Cabinet on Monday was discussing how to seek parliamentary authorization for a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, as well as possible retaliatory measures if the U.S. Congress passes an Armenian genocide resolution.

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.

A senior rebel commander Duran Kalkan claimed that the Turkish military would suffer a serious blow if it launches a cross-border offensive, saying Turkey would "be bogged down in a quagmire," 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 US$84.63 a barrel before receding slightly in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midday in Europe.

Turkey's private NTV television said Cabinet members were likely to approve a motion requesting that Parliament approve a cross-border operation to hunt rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Parliament could vote as early as this week if it receives the motion, and passage was considered likely.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government twice acquired similar authorizations from the Parliament in 2003, but did not act on them.

Also Monday, Cabinet ministers 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 a 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 WWI-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 is approved in the U.S. Congress.

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 overland 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.