By Hidir Goktas, Reuters
ANKARA — Turkey’s cabinet asked parliament on Monday for permission to launch an attack on Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq that Washington fears could sow chaos in one of the most peaceful areas of the wartorn country.
Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said Turkey still hoped military action against the Kurds, who use the mountainous region as base for attacks inside Turkey, would not be needed.
“But the most painful reality of our country, our region, is the reality of terror,” he told a news conference.
He said the motion, which parliament is expected to approve on Wednesday, would be valid for one year and would allow multiple cross-border operations.
The United States has urged restraint on Turkey, a key NATO ally on the fringes of the Middle East. But Washington’s influence in Ankara is being severely undermined by a U.S. Congressional move to brand as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915.
The lira fell more than 2 percent against the dollar on Monday on fears of military action. Ankara’s tough rhetoric has also helped drive global oil prices higher in recent days. Oil zoomed to an all-time high above $85 a barrel on Monday.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s center-right government is under heavy public pressure to act after a series of attacks on Turkish troops by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which seeks an independent homeland in eastern Turkey.
Cicek said Turkey’s sole target, if its troops entered northern Iraq, would be the PKK militants, about 3,000 of whom are believed to be hiding there.
Cicek repeated criticism of Iraq’s failure, despite Turkish pressure, to take action against the PKK on its territory. An Iraqi deputy state minister would hold talks in Ankara with Turkish officials on Tuesday.
In the text of the motion, seen by Reuters, the government states continued commitment to Iraq’s territorial integrity and defends its right under international law to send troops across the border as an act of self defense.
Turkey’s powerful military, the second largest in NATO, has long called for permission to chase PKK rebels into Iraq, where it says they are allowed to operate with impunity.
A top general said on Monday it was too early to discuss the exact timing or scale of a possible operation against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.
“If this duty (Iraqi incursion) is assigned to us, we will look at the scale on which it will be carried out. It is not possible to say this right now,” deputy chief of General Staff, General Ergin Saygun told reporters.