Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Turkey prepared to send army to Iraq to confront Kurds

AP , ANKARA, TURKEY

Turkish officials signaled they were prepared to send their army into northern Iraq if US and Iraqi forces did not take steps to combat Turkish Kurdish guerrillas there. Such a move could put Turkey on a collision course with the US, which has repeatedly warned against unilateral moves in Iraq.

But Turkey is facing increasing domestic pressure to take some kind of action after 15 soldiers, police and guards were killed in fighting with the guerrillas in the past week.

"The government is really in a bind," said Seyfi Tashan, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Bilkent University in Ankara. "On the one hand they don't want things to break down with the US. On the other hand, the public is crying for action."

Diplomats and experts cautioned that the increasingly aggressive Turkish statements were likely aimed at calming public anger and pressing the US and Iraq to act against the rebels, who are based in northern Iraq's rugged Qandil mountains. But they also caution that Turkish politicians and military officers could take action if nothing is done.

US officials in Turkey and Washington were in contact with Turkish officials and military commanders to press them to work with Washington to combat the guerrillas and not take action alone, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Turkey's NTV and Hurriyet daily reported on Tuesday that the government has instructed the military to draw up plans for a push into northern Iraq and to advise on the possibilities that such a move could lead to a clash with Iraqi Kurdish forces or US troops in the area. NTV added that any operation was unlikely to take place before the end of next month, when the current military chief of staff is replaced by an officer regarded as a hardliner.

The Western diplomat said the Turkish military has long had plans for fighting guerrillas in northern Iraq. Those plans range from limited artillery and air strikes on guerrilla bases to attacks by commando forces and a broader ground offensive.

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