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Turkey approves Iraq incursion

  • Story Highlights
  • Turkey's Parliament approves military action on Kurdish separatists
  • Move comes despite international calls for restraint
  • Bush: "We don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq"
  • Turkey says PKK separatists are launching attacks from Iraqi Kurdistan
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(CNN) -- The Turkish parliament has voted to allow its military to make an incursion into Iraq and chase down Kurdish rebels staging cross-border attacks.

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A Turkish army commando patrols in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government had asked parliament in Ankara on Monday to authorize a military incursion, and the lawmakers responded with overwhelming approval, 507 to 19.

Parliamentary approval, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said before the debate, would not necessarily trigger immediate military action and many analysts doubt a full-scale invasion will be launched.

Turkey has already massed 60,000 troops in the region and over the weekend it shelled farms across the border.

Jamal Abdullah, an Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government spokesman, reacted to the Turkish vote by saying the solution should be a political and diplomatic one, not a military one.

An incursion across the border would be "violating the sovereignty of another country and is against international laws and treaties," he said.

"We are in intensive talks and dialogue with the Iraqi government on a political, diplomatic and even military level, although we hope it does not reach that level," Abdullah said.

But the chances of such military action raises great concerns in the United States, which fears it would undermine the stability of the American-backed government in Baghdad and jeopardize the supply lines that support U.S. troops in Iraq.

And it heightens anxiety in Iraq, where officials have been taking all-out diplomatic efforts to keep Turkey from carrying out cross-border assaults against Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, rebels in northern Iraq.

Speaking as news of the vote was announced, U.S. President George W. Bush -- who said there already are Turkish troops stationed in Iraq -- said "we are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq."

He noted that Iraq considers the issue sensitive. Saying Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi traveled to Ankara to discuss the issue with Turkish officials, he said the diplomatic discussions on the issue are positive.

"There's a better way to deal with the issue than having the Turks send massive troops into the country," said Bush.

Meanwhile, Barham Saleh, Iraq's deputy prime minister, who is Kurdish, told CNN that Iraqis believe the "prospect of unilateral action will mean irreparable damage to bilateral relations, and will be a bad consequence to Iraq, bad consequence to Turkey, bad consequence to the region." Video Watch Saleh explain why such actions would be "grave" »

Saleh said before Wednesday's parliamentary vote in Turkey that such a move would also set a grim precedent.

"If Turkey were to give itself the right to interfere in Iraq militarily, what is there to stop other neighbors from doing so?"

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for a series of steps to tackle the dispute, including the dispatching of top-level political and security delegation to Turkey.

Al-Maliki phoned Erdogan on Wednesday and reassured him that Iraq has banned PKK terror activities, his office said.

The office said Erdogan expressed his desire for good relations with Iraq and stressed Turkey's determination to cooperate with the government to deal with the PKK and welcomed negotiations and talks on the issue.

Cross-border trade

In an agreement signed in late September, Iraq agreed to crack down on the PKK, which the U.S. and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.

Iraqi army has no plan to deploy its soldiers near the rugged Turkish-Iraqi border to take on the Kurdish rebels targeting Turkey, and Iraqi authorities are satisfied with the efforts by the Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities to deal with the militants there, a top Iraqi military official told CNN Wednesday.

"It's a mountainous area, difficult terrain and our troops are not trained for that," said Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, Iraqi Armed Forces deputy chief of staff.

But Abadi said it was in the interest of the Kurdish Regional Government to deal with the Kurdish rebel problem because of its economic relationship with Turkey.

"They can't afford the PKK to spoil it," he said.

Abadi underscored the importance of cross-border trade, saying that the Kurdish region lost $1 million a day in trade when the Iraq-Iran border was closed during the recent Ramadan holiday.

Iran closed border points in the Kurdish region to protest an arrest of a man the U.S. military called a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, a point disputed by Iran.

Abadi added that the Turkish military in the past has conducted a series of hot-pursuit-style raids over the vast and mountainous border into northern Iraq in recent years and it didn't find a single Kurdish rebel.

He said most PKK rebels are believed to be in southern Turkey, Syria and Iran.

"They are very good at hiding; it's guerrilla warfare up there," Abadi said.

Armenian issue

The United States has been attempting to use its influence to keep Turkey from launching an incursion but a U.S. domestic political dispute involving the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire around 90 years ago has enflamed passions in Turkey and presented challenges for American diplomacy.

Ties between the NATO allies are strained over a symbolic measure making its way through Congress that would declare the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians "genocide."

Bush on Wednesday urged Congress to drop the House resolution. "One thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire. The resolution on the mass killings of Armenians beginning in 1915 is counterproductive," Bush told reporters.

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Two senior U.S. military officials told CNN that commanders in Europe have been told to be "prepared to execute" alternatives to using Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey if Turkey follows through on threats to restrict U.S. use of the base in retaliation for the resolution, which a House of Representatives committee approved last week.

Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that Pentagon planners are looking at "a broad range of options" to keep food, fuel and ammunition flowing to U.S. troops in Iraq if Turkey pulls the plug on Incirlik. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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