ISTANBUL, Turkey – Parliament authorized the government Wednesday to send troops into northern Iraq to root out Kurdish rebels who’ve been conducting raids into Turkey. The vote removed the last legal obstacle to an offensive, but there was no sign of imminent action as the United States urged restraint.
Turkish leaders, under pressure from Washington and Baghdad, have signaled they would not immediately give the order to send in 60,000 soldiers, armor and attack helicopters into a region that has largely escaped the chaos of the Iraq war.
The crisis along the border, where the Turkish troops have massed since summer, has driven up oil prices along with tensions between Turkey and its longtime NATO ally, the United States.
President Bush said the U.S. was making clear to Turkey that it should not stage a major army operation in the Iraqi north.
Bush said Turkey has had troops stationed in northern Iraq “for quite a while,” a reference to about 1,500 soldiers deployed for years to monitor the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, with the permission of Iraqi Kurd authorities.
“We don’t think it’s in their interest to send more troops in,” he said.
While they now have the authority to strike at PKK bases used to stage attacks in Turkey, the country’s leaders appear to be holding back in hopes the threat of an incursion will prod Iraq and the U.S. to move against the guerrillas.
As Parliament voted 507-19 to approve military operations against PKK fighters in northern Iraq over the next year, Turkey’s government moved to explain its decision to its Arab neighbors, sending Foreign Minister Ali Babacan to Egypt and Lebanon.