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Friday, July 21, 2006

Turkey moves forward on push into Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey (AP)- The Turkish military is moving forward with plans to send forces into northern Iraq to clear out Turkish Kurdish guerrilla bases, the prime minister said Wednesday.

But Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said officials were holding talks with the United States and Iraq in an attempt to defuse tensions.

Diplomats and officials have said repeatedly that Turkey's threats to send troops into Iraq were largely aimed at pressing the United States and Iraq to take action against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, whose fighters have killed 15 Turks in the southeast in the past week.

Any Turkish cross-border operation is likely to inflame tensions with the United States and destabilize one of the only calm regions of Iraq. A push into northern Iraq could also threaten ties with EU countries, which have been pressing Turkey to improve minority Kurdish rights as a step toward reducing tensions in the largely Kurdish southeast.

And there is the possibility that Kurds in largely autonomous northern Iraq could fight the Turks if they enter the country. The guerrillas are mostly based in the Qandil mountains that straddle Iraq's border with
Iran, about 50 miles from the Turkish border. They infiltrate southeastern Turkey from those bases to attack.

"Any unilateral cross-border moves would be a great mistake," said Qubad Talabani, representative in Washington of the Kurdistan regional government, which controls northern Iraq.

"There is no military solution to the PKK problem," Talabani, the son of the Iraqi president, told The Associated Press. "I think Turkey only sees a military solution."

Erdogan said Wednesday Turkish "security forces are proceeding with their work. Whatever step needs to be taken will be taken."

But he added that "we have started negotiations with the United States and Iraq concerning the issue by inviting their ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry. We will see what the results are and take steps accordingly."

U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson said Monday and again Tuesday that Turkey should work with Washington and Baghdad and should not take unilateral action in Iraq.

"It is not up to the ambassador or ambassadors to make such a decision," Erdogan shot back. "It is up to the officials of the government of the Republic of Turkey. We make the decision and implement it."

The main opposition party in Turkey's parliament said it supports any cross-border operation.
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