The Turkish government Monday said it would seek parliamentary approval this week to launch a major military operation into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish separatists based there, after days of cross-border shelling of suspected rebel positions.
The threatened action comes despite pleas from Washington and Baghdad that Turkey refrain from an incursion into Iraq that could destabilize an already volatile part of the world.
Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said that although Turkey respected Iraq’s sovereignty, it had to act against Kurdish separatists who have stepped up their deadly attacks on Turkish troops in recent weeks.
Several thousand rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, are believed holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq.
“The reality that everyone knows is that this terrorist organization, which has bases in the north of Iraq, is attacking the territorial integrity of Turkey and its citizens,” Cicek told a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
He was speaking after the Cabinet approved a motion seeking yearlong permission to send troops into Iraq. The motion is to go before parliament Wednesday, and is expected to be approved.
Analysts caution, however, that approval of the request does not mean an invasion will be launched immediately.
The motion gives Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a bargaining chip as he seeks to quell rebel attacks and placate an army chomping at the bit to attack.
Turkish governments were granted similar carte blanche twice in recent years but did not act on them.
Turkey has been shelling targets in northern Iraq in recent days, including populated villages, according to Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish sources. Shelling continued Sunday night in the hamlet of Kani Masi in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Agence France-Presse reported.
The Bush administration, fearful that Turkish military action in northern Iraq would inflame the single relatively peaceful part of that country, has dispatched a string of envoys to Ankara to urge restraint.
But Washington lost much of its power of persuasion in Turkey last week, when a U.S. House of Representatives committee voted to recognize as genocide the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago.
The resolution angered Turkish officials, who maintain that the mass slaughter of Armenians should be viewed in the context of world war and judged by historians, not politicians.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Rome contributed to this report.