Turkish Parliament Approves Iraq Cross-Border Incursion

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Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a possible cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, but Turkey came under renewed pressure from Washington and Baghdad to refrain from sending troops into one of Iraq's few relatively stable regions.

Turkish leaders have stressed that an offensive against Iraq-based rebels who carry out attacks in Turkey would not be immediate.

As Parliament voted 507-19 in favor of empowering the government to order the military into Iraq over a one-year period, U.S. President George W. Bush said in Washington that the United States was making clear to Turkey that it should not launch such an offensive.

"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interest to send troops into Iraq," Bush said.

"Actually they have troops already stationed in Iraq, and they've had troops stationed there for quite a while," he said. "We don't think it's in their interest to send more troops in."

Oil prices surged to a new record of $89 a barrel after the vote. Traders worry that any escalation in the conflict will cut oil supplies from northern Iraq.

Hours before the vote, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt "terrorist activities" of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on Iraqi territory, and he emphasized the need for the two nations to continue to talk, his office said in a statement.

In Paris, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, called on PKK rebels to stop fighting in Turkey, while also urging the Turkish government not to launch an incursion.

"We consider activities of PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people first, and then against the interests of Turkey," Talabani told reporters during an official visit to the French capital. "We have asked the PKK to stop fighting, to end the so-called military activity."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the decision reflected the Turkish Parliament's will.

"What's important is the Parliament's decision, not what people say," Erdogan said.

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

Wednesday's motion — authorizing an incursion into Iraq sometime over the next year — had the backing of all of Turkey's parliamentary parties except a small Kurdish party. Legislators burst into applause.

Turkey has complained about what it considers a lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK. It also is frustrated with Washington, after U.S. Congress last week approved a resolution labeling the World War I-era killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians a genocide.

Turkey denies there was any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, and says the number of Armenians killed is inflated.

Bush repeated calls on Wednesday for Congress to drop the resolution, noting the amount of domestic legislation pending and saying "One thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire."

The House vote was in jeopardy on Tuesday after several Democrats withdrew support for the resolution and sounded alarms it could cripple U.S. relations with Turkey.

On Wednesday visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad said Turkey had a legitimate right to stage a cross-border offensive.

"We understand that such an operation would be aimed toward a certain group which attacks Turkish soldiers. We support decisions that Turkey has on its agenda, we are backing them," Assad told reporters. "We accept this as Turkey's legitimate right."

A Kurdish party voted against the motion.

"Now, instead of cross-border offensives, it is time to focus on least tried methods of democratic debate and civilian solution," said Selahattin Demirtas, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party. He said the occupation of Iraq by U.S.-led forces and the opposition of Iraqi Kurds to a possible Turkish move threatened to "drag Turkey to into a political quagmire."

Cemil Cicek, a deputy prime minister speaking in favor of the motion said: "We are at the point where our patience has run out."

Erdogan has said the passage of the motion in Parliament "does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once."

"Turkey will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe," he has said.

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.