Turkey keeps Iraq option open

Turkey keeps Iraq option open

October 12, 2007

By Selcan Hacaoglu – ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan said today that Turkey would not be deterred by the possible
diplomatic consequences if it decides to stage a cross-border
offensive into Iraq against Kurdish rebels.

"If such an option is chosen, whatever its price, it will be paid,"
Erdogan told reporters in response to a question about the
international repercussions of such a decision, which would strain
ties with the United States and Iraq. "There could be pros and cons of
such a decision, but what is important is our country’s interests."

Erdogan also had harsh words for the United States, which opposes a
Turkish incursion into northern Iraq – one of the country’s few
relatively stable areas.

"Did they seek permission from anyone when they came from a distance
of 10,000 kilometers and hit Iraq?" he said. "We do not need anyone
else’s advice."

Analysts say Turkey could be less restrained about defying the United
States because of a congressional committee’s approval of a resolution
labeling the mass killings of Armenians around the time of World War I
as genocide.

"Democrats are harming the future of the United States and are
encouraging anti-American sentiments," Erdogan said. Democratic
leaders in the House of Representatives support the resolution.

Erdogan said Turkey was ready to sacrifice good ties with Washington
if necessary.

"Let it snap from wherever it gets thin," Erdogan said, using a
Turkish expression that means breaking ties with someone or something.

At issue in the resolution is the killing of up to 1.5 million
Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted
genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and those killed were
victims of civil war and unrest that killed Muslims as well as the
overwhelmingly Christian Armenians.

Turkey, a key supply route to U.S. troops in Iraq, recalled its
ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned of serious
repercussions if Congress passes the resolution.

"In the United States, there are several narrow-minded legislators who
can’t think of their own interests and who cannot understand the
importance of Turkey," said Murat Mercan, head of the Turkish
parliament’s foreign relations committee.

Turkish authorities have refused to comment on whether Turkey might
shut down Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, a major cargo hub for
U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkey’s
Mediterranean port of Iskenderun is also used to ferry goods to
American troops.

The Yeni Safak newspaper, which is close to the Turkish government,
said today that Incirlik and $15 billion worth of defense contracts,
including purchase of warplanes, missile and radar systems, could be
reviewed. Turkey could also prevent U.S. firms from taking part in new
contracts, Yeni Safak said.

Erdogan said Turkey has long been seeking the cooperation of Iraq and
the United States in its fight against Kurdish guerrillas, but there
has been no crackdown on the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, which has
bases in Iraq. Erdogan said a recent anti-terrorism deal signed with
Iraq was not valid since it had not been approved by Iraq’s parliament

The Turkish parliament was expected to approve a government request to
authorize an Iraq campaign as early as next week, after a holiday
ending the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"We are making necessary preparations to be ready in case we decide on
a cross-border operation since we don’t have patience to lose more
time," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey has lost 30 people in rebel
attacks over the past two weeks.

A Turkish soldier was killed in a mine explosion on Thursday night on
Mt. Gabar in southeastern Sirnak province, authorities said Friday.

Turkish army units, backed by helicopter gunships, were hunting rebels
in the rugged border area.

Bahoz Erdal, a senior rebel commander, said the PKK fighters were
moving further inside Turkey and taking new "positions" in the face of
attacks from Turkey, pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency reported Friday.
The agency is based in Belgium.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

Source: le?AID=/20071012/FOREIGN/110120114/1003


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