Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Turkish army shells northern Iraq

DETERMINED As it mulls a ground offensive across the border to mop up Kurdish guerillas, Ankara must weigh the ramifications this would have on its ties with the US


Turkey took a step toward a military operation in Iraq on Tuesday, as its top political and military leaders issued a statement authorizing troops to cross the Iraqi border to eliminate separatist Kurdish rebel camps in the northern region.

Yesterday, Turkish troops pounded suspected Kurdish rebel camps in northern Iraq with artillery fire, a newspaper reported.

Turkey made the move in the face of strong opposition by the US, which is anxious to maintain peace in the region, one of the rare areas of stability in conflict-torn Iraq. But more than two dozen Turkish soldiers have been killed in recent days and the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed far more determined than before to act decisively.

A government official without authorization to speak publicly on the issue who asked not to be identified by name said preparations were underway to seek parliamentary approval for a cross-border military operation, a request that would be the first formal step toward an offensive.

Government offices and institutions have been ordered "to take all economic and political measures, including cross-border operations when necessary, in order to end the existence of the terror organization in a neighboring country," said the statement, released by Erdogan's office after he met political and military leaders in Ankara.

A Turkish military offensive into northern Iraq would have far-reaching consequences for the US. Turkey is a NATO member and has the region's most powerful army. Its support of the US in the Iraq war is crucial. The US' Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey supplies the military in central Iraq.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US had encouraged Turkish officials to work with the Iraqi government.

"In our view, it is not going to lead to a long-term, durable solution to have significant incursions from Turkey into Iraq," he said at a news briefing in Washington.

But Baghdad has little authority in the region, which is controlled exclusively by Kurds and an accord reached by Iraq's interior minister and senior Turkish officials last month did not include permission for military operations, a formulation that frustrated Turkey.

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