Turk PM confirms plan to allow Iraq incursion

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ANKARA, Oct 10 (Reuters) Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan confirmed today his government was drawing up plans to authorize a military incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels using the region as a base.

His government could send a request to parliament as early as tomorrow to authorise such an operation, Erdogan said in an interview on CNN Turk. He hopes to gain authorisation after a holiday this weekend, he said.

Erdogan is under pressure to act after rebel attacks which have killed 15 soldiers since Sunday, but political analysts say a major cross-border operation remains unlikely.

A large incursion would strain ties with the United States and the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join, and could undermine regional stability. Russia also urged restraint.

Washington, which relies on Turkish bases to supply its war effort in Iraq, cautioned against an incursion.

''We do not think it would be the best place for troops to go into Iraq from Turkey at this time,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters, echoing the State Department's position stated the day before.

''We have said that we want to work with the Turkish government and the Iraqis ... to eradicate the terrorist problem there in northern Iraq.'' Erdogan, asked about his plans as he arrived at parliament, said preparations on the incursion proposal ''have started and are continuing.'' Parliament, where Erdogan's ruling centre-right AK Party has a big majority, would have to grant permission for troops to cross the border into Iraq. Passing the measure would not automatically mean Turkish troops going into northern Iraq.

Ankara blames rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.

Large-scale Turkish incursions into northern Iraq in 1995 and 1997, involving an estimated 35,000 and 50,000 troops respectively, failed to dislodge the rebels.

With Turkey about to start a religious holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, some newspapers said the proposal may not be sent to parliament until next week.

Turkey's military, the second biggest in NATO, launched a fresh offensive today against PKK rebels in Tunceli province in the east of the country, television reported.

Military sources said there was also some shelling of rebel positions in the border region but only on the Turkish side.

Border guards arrested 20 suspected PKK supporters on Wednesday crossing into Turkey from Iraq, said CNN Turk TV.

In southeastern Turkey, a policeman was killed and seven people were injured when a police vehicle was the target of a grenade attack, police officials said.

An earlier report by Turkish TV channel NTV said a child had been killed in the attack.

It was not clear who carried out the attack.

IRAQ OPPOSED Yesterday, Erdogan said all measures, including military ones, would be considered in the fight against the PKK, some 3,000 of whom are believed to be holed up in northern Iraq.

Iraq and Turkey recently signed an anti-terrorism accord, but Baghdad refused Ankara's request to allow Turkish troops to chase rebels across their shared border if the need arose.

''Turkey cannot intervene in northern Iraq today without the consent of the elected government in Baghdad because it would violate international law,'' said Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University.

Ankara is also aware Baghdad lacks clout in mainly Kurdish northern Iraq, whose autonomous administration has repeatedly rejected Turkish demands for a crackdown on the PKK.

Analysts said a Turkish incursion could play into the hands of the PKK.

Military intervention would stoke anger among Turkish Kurds and undermine government plans to develop the economy of the impoverished southeast region.

Noting the timing of the latest Turkish threats, some analysts suggest they might be aimed more at swaying Congress in Washington against backing a resolution on massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in World War One.

The House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee is expected to back a resolution today defining the 1915 massacres as genocide, despite warnings from Ankara and the Bush administration that it could damage bilateral ties.

Reuters SYU VP0018

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