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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 October 2007, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
Turkey in tense border stand-off
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Ankara

Turkish troops near the Iraqi border
The US fears a Turkish raid could destabilise the region
Ever since the Turkish parliament voted to authorise possible military operations in northern Iraq, calls have flooded into Ankara from around the world urging Turkey back from the brink.

The MPs' motion approves cross-border action by Turkish troops to target the bases of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"Finally Turkey has grabbed the world's attention," says Istanbul academic Soli Ozel.

"Turkey has been shouting about the PKK issue for a long time, but we had to go this far to make people wake up to how serious it is. Perhaps people thought we were bluffing, but this is serious."

On Wednesday deputies in parliament cast an overwhelming 507 votes in favour of the motion to 19 against, which permits the government to order military operations inside Iraq within the next year.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed that the motion does not mean troops are poised to cross the border immediately. But the legal basis for such action is now in place.

Pressure for action

The vote follows a series of devastating attacks blamed on the PKK in which almost 30 soldiers and civilians were killed.

PKK rebels in northern Iraq (file pic)
PKK guerrillas are based in rugged mountainous terrain in Iraq

"Those attacks were a milestone. Our policy of restraint over northern Iraq has ended," explains Suat Kiniklioglu, a member of the ruling AK Party and spokesperson for parliament's foreign relations committee.

"We need to take decisive action against the PKK and those who harbour it. Everyone must understand that the situation is not sustainable as it is."

A mountain ambush that killed 13 commandos caused particular outrage.

A special fund established by Turkey's national football manager - the "campaign to support the heroes fighting against terror" - has already raised more than $56m (28m) in five days for the families of soldiers injured or killed in action.

Public pressure on the government to respond to PKK attacks is immense.

Anxious to prevent any further destabilisation of Iraq, Washington has led calls for restraint. In Ankara the justice minister suggested America examine its own response to terror attacks before ordering Turkey to hold back.

The US ambassador to Turkey says it is clear that patience here is running thin. The response has been frantic diplomatic activity.

US plea to Iraq

"I think it is fair to say a significant amount of pressure is being felt now in Baghdad and the north about the need for effective ways to deal with this," Ambassador Ross Wilson told the BBC.

"We are strongly encouraging Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds that now is the time to show Turkey that the Iraqis are with them in the fight against an international terrorist organisation."

There is no point talking to Turkey - the US needs to talk to the Iraqi Kurds and the PKK now and make them see Turkey is serious
Mehmet Ali Birand
Newspaper columnist

Ambassador Wilson said America had no plans to divert US troops in Iraq to the north to tackle the PKK. Instead he stressed Baghdad and Ankara should work aggressively to ensure the implementation of an anti-terror pact signed last month.

"We recognise the need for Turkey to see that co-operation with the US, with Iraq and others on the PKK problem is producing results," he said - but would not be drawn on any details.

"In the nature of the fight against terror a lot of stuff is not visible. What they're hoping to see are some visible results - I hope we can achieve that."

Commentators here increasingly recall 1998, when Turkey threatened military action against Syria to root out PKK fighters then based there.

The group's founder Abdullah Ocalan was expelled from Syria soon after and captured, leading to a five-year lull in clashes.

Now PKK attacks have escalated again and the pressure this time is on Iraq to act, and on the US to use its influence.

Baghdad has already called for crisis talks with Ankara in response to the vote in parliament. Iraq's foreign minister has urged PKK fighters to leave the Kurdish-run north.

There are also hints the US Congress may drop a highly controversial vote to label the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide. That might enhance Washington's powers of persuasion with Ankara over northern Iraq.

But Turkey feels it has made its position clear. Now it expects action in response.

"There is no point talking to Turkey. The US needs to talk to the Iraqi Kurds and the PKK now and make them see Turkey is serious," writes respected newspaper columnist Mehmet Ali Birand.

He believes cross-border operations risk dragging Turkish troops into the Iraqi political and security swamp. Relations with the United States and the EU would suffer. All that plays into the hands of the PKK.

But he warns that "if there is another major attack by the PKK, military action will be very hard to resist".

SEE ALSO
Kurds 'will fight Turkish raids'
19 Oct 07 |  Middle East
Iraq urges Kurdish rebels to go
18 Oct 07 |  Europe
Iraq warns Turkey against raids
15 Oct 07 |  Europe
Profile: The PKK
15 Oct 07 |  Europe
Turkey condemns US Armenia vote
11 Oct 07 |  Americas

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