Turkey Ready to Send Troops Into Northern Iraq

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave the green light on Tuesday for a possible military incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels hiding there after a series of deadly attacks on Turkish security forces.

Erdogan is under heavy pressure from Turkey's powerful army and opposition parties to take tough action against rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after they shot dead 13 soldiers on Sunday near the Iraqi border.

Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkey's parliament would need to authorize any large-scale military operation -- a scenario most analysts say remains unlikely -- but he said such permission was not required for limited, "hot pursuit" raids.

Washington has urged Turkey, a NATO ally, not to take military action in mainly Kurdish northern Iraq, fearing this could destabilize the most peaceful region in the country.

"To put an end to the terrorist organization operating in the neighboring country (Iraq), the order has been given to take every kind of measure, legal, economic, political, including also a cross-border operation if necessary," Erdogan's office said in a statement.

"Orders have been given to all relevant institutions to continue to wage a decisive struggle against terrorism and the terrorists," said the statement, issued after a special meeting of Turkey's top anti-terrorism body.

The White House said on Tuesday it was committed to working with Turkey and Iraq to combat the PKK. Spokesman Gordon Johndroe would not comment specifically on whether the White House would support any Turkish incursion.

DEADLY ATTACKS

Sunday's attack in Sirnak province was the worst single incident in 12 years. Two other soldiers died on Monday in separate PKK landmine explosions.

The previous week, 12 people, including village guards, died when PKK rebels ambushed their minibus in Sirnak province.

Turkish television and newspapers have carried extensive pictures of the funerals, with coffins draped in the national flag, watched by grieving wives, children and parents.

Financial markets are closely monitoring the debate over northern Iraq, though the lira currency and share prices did not move very much on Tuesday after Erdogan's statement.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned the latest PKK attacks and pledged the alliance's solidarity.

"The terrorist threat presented by such violence is unacceptable and Turkey deserves full support of its allies. NATO will continue a steadfast defense against terrorism; we will not allow terrorists to prevail," he said.

Turkey signed an anti-terrorism deal on September 28 with Iraq targeting the PKK but failed to win Baghdad's consent to allow "hot pursuit" raids across the border. Their deal focuses on financial and intelligence measures against the PKK.

Ankara knows the Baghdad government has little clout in the autonomous Kurdish north, whose authorities are loathe to take action against their ethnic kin in the PKK.

An estimated 3,000 PKK rebels use mountainous northern Iraq as a springboard from which to attack Turkish targets.

Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group began its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.

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