Turkey moved a step closer Monday to a possible incursion in northern Iraq as the government sought parliament’s approval for military action against Kurdish rebel bases, despite US opposition.
Ankara hopes it will not be forced to resort to military action, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek told reporters after a cabinet meeting, shortly before a motion was formally submitted to parliament.
“We hope that there will be no reason to use the authorisation, we hope there will be no need for that,” he said.
The motion seeks a one-year authorisation for a military operation in northern Iraq, where an estimated 3,500 rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are based.
The government will decide on the timing and scope of the operation and can use the authorisation for numerous raids, Cicek said.
He underlined that any cross-border operation would only target the PKK and Ankara had no designs on Iraqi territory.
“We have always respected the sovereignty of Iraq, which is a friendly and brotherly country,” Cicek said.
The government plans to put the motion to a vote on Wednesday and could opt to hold a closed-door debate, Sadullah Ergin, the parliamentary group chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said.
The AKP, which dominates parliament, is expected to secure parliamentary approval but a top military commander said it was too early to speculate on the timing of any operation.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted last week that action was unlikely to be immediate.
The Turkish government’s motion is likely to dominate talks during Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi’s one-day visit to Ankara Tuesday.
Hashemi will discuss “all aspects of bilateral ties” with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, a Turkish diplomat said.
The United States and Iraq have repeatedly warned Turkey against an incursion.
“We all have an interest in a stable Iraq and a desire to see the PKK (rebels) brought to justice,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Monday.
“But we urge the Turks to continue their discussions with us and the Iraqis, and to show restraint from any potentially destabilizing actions.”
Turkey says it has no other option because neither Washington nor Baghdad is helping end the safe haven the PKK enjoys in northern Iraq.
Ties between Ankara and Washington suffered a fresh blow last week when the US House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed a bill branding the Ottoman Empire’s mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide.
The army said at the weekend that it had shelled Iraqi territory after PKK rebels attacked a Turkish military outpost with rockets and gunfire from across the border.
Mounting violence by the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community including the United States, has increased the pressure on Erdogan to take tougher measures against the rebels.
Ankara says the PKK enjoys free movement in northern Iraq and obtains weapons and explosives there for attacks inside Turkey. It has accused the Iraqi Kurds, who run the region, of tolerating and even supporting the rebels.
Turkish criticism of Washington increased recently after it emerged that US weapons given to Iraq had ended up in PKK hands.
Turkey and Iraq signed an accord last month to combat the PKK but failed to agree on a clause allowing Turkish troops to engage in “hot pursuit” — as they did regularly in the 1990s — against rebels fleeing into Iraqi territory.
Observers here also doubt that the embattled Baghdad government, which has virtually no authority over northern Iraq, can cajole the Iraqi Kurds into action against the PKK.
The PKK has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.