Invading Iraq, Again? Turkish Parliament Approves Cross-Border Attacks

Turkish lawmakers in Ankara gave legal cover to a military mission inside northern Iraq on Wednesday. Iraqi leaders are still lobbying against any such action, and US President Bush has warned against an incursion, but oil prices hit an all-time high on fears of a difficult winter.

Turkey's parliament approved a measure on Wednesday that clears the way for its military to cross Iraq's northern border and clash with Kurdish insurgents there.

The vote wasn't even close -- 507-19 in favor of empowering the Ankara government for one year to order a military incursion.

Now only diplomacy between Ankara and Baghdad can prevent an offensive that Turkey's NATO allies fear might lead to a wider conflict in the Middle East. One of Iraq's Vice Presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, was in Ankara for last-minute discussions with Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan before the vote on Wednesday. "I think I got what I wanted (from my talks)," he told reporters. "Now there is a new atmosphere and we should use it … Iraq should be given a chance to prevent the cross-border terrorist activities."

But Erdogan has been under domestic pressure to respond to a series of deadly assaults on Turkish border troops by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. Around 3,000 PKK members are believed to be hiding along the border in the Kurdish north of Iraq.

Before the vote on Wednesday, there were mollifying words from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is an ethnic Kurd. He tried to show that Iraqi interests were no different from Turkey's. "We consider the activities of PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people first, and then against the interests of Turkey, against the new trend of democracy in Turkey," he said after a meeting in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, denied a report on Wednesday by CNN-Turk TV that he had offered Erdogan military help in crushing the insurgents.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the price of oil hit an all-time high -- $89 per barrel -- and US President George W. Bush warned Turkish leaders that an invasion of northern Iraq would be against their "interests." But his position was weakened by a now-stalled bill  in the US House of Representatives that labels the World War I-era slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey as "genocide."

Turkey has been known to send soldiers into northern Iraq before -- 1997 was a particularly bloody year -- but it has shown restraint since the US invasion in 2003. Over the past two weeks, though, 30 Turkish soldiers along the Iraqi border have been killed by Kurdish rebels.

msm/ap/reuters

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