Turkish general says too early to speak on Iraq move

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ANKARA, Oct 15 (Reuters) A top Turkish general said today it was too early to speak on the timing or scale of acpossible operation against separatist Kurdish rebels in northerncIraq, for which parliament's approval will be sought this week.

Faced with an escalation in Kurdish separatist violence,cTurkey's government has said it will request authorisation from cparliament this week for a cross-border operation into northern Iraq, a move opposed by the United States which fears increased regional instability.

Asked about the timing of a possible operation, deputy head of the general staff, General Ergin Saygun, told reporters: ''If this duty is assigned to us, we will look at the scale on which it will be carried out. It is not possible to say this right now.'' The United States has urged Turkey to refrain from any major military operation in northern Iraq, but a US congressional resolution branding massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide has strained US-Turkish relations.

Turkish casualties have risen in recent weeks as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas have stepped up their attacks, putting more public pressure on the government to send troops into Iraq to tackle rebels based there.

Tensions over northern Iraq helped send oil prices to record highs today.

Meanwhile, Saygun said it was up to the government to determine Turkey's reaction to the Armenian resolution. Turkey denies genocide was carried out, saying many died in inter-ethnic fighting.

Diplomats say that in retaliation, measures could include Turkey blocking US access to Incirlik air base, cancelling procurement contracts, downscaling bilateral visits, denying airspace to US aircraft and halting joint military exercises.

The United States relies heavily on Turkish bases to supply its war effort in Iraq, where more than 160,000 US troops are trying to restore stability more than four years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Ankara has long complained Washington has not done enough on its own or through the Iraqi government to crack down on PKK rebels in northern Iraq.

Turkey blames the 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.

The possibility of a major Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq is also troubling to US officials, who fear this could destabilise a relatively peaceful area of Iraq.

Reuters SKB GC1804

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