Turkey's Parliament on Wednesday was expected to approve a possible cross-border military incursion into northern Iraq to chase separatist Kurdish rebels despite international calls for restraint.
Turkish leaders have stressed that an offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, would not immediately follow the motion authorizing the incursion.
Iraq has urged Turkey not to send troops across the border to pursue separatist Kurds in mountain hide-outs. It dispatched one of its two vice presidents to Ankara on Tuesday and called for a diplomatic solution to tensions that have raised fears of a new front in the Iraq war.
"Iraq must be given the chance to stop PKK rebels who cross the border before Turkey takes any step," the Anatolia news agency quoted Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi as saying before his departure from Ankara.
"I got what I wanted from our talks. There is a new atmosphere to stop the current crisis," he was also quoted as saying. Al-Hashimi met Tuesday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials.
Hours before the vote in parliament, Turkey invited ambassadors from countries bordering Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations to the Foreign Ministry for a briefing on why it was passing the motion in parliament.
The motion, authorizing an attack into Iraq sometime over the next year, has the backing of all but one party in parliament. Only a small Kurdish party has said it would vote against it.
"The passage of the motion in parliament does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once," Erdogan said Tuesday. "Turkey will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe."
Public anger over attacks by Kurdish guerrillas is high but Turkish officials are mindful that two dozen Iraqi campaigns since the 1980s have failed to eradicate the PKK. A cross-border attack into northern Iraq could also strain ties with the United States, a NATO ally that opposes any disruption of its efforts to stabilize Iraq.
Kurdish rebels from the PKK have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Turkey has complained about what it considers a lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK, a frustration with Washington intensified because of another sensitive issue: the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
A panel in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution last week labeling the killings genocide, an affront to Turks who deny there was any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution, one U.S. President George W. Bush opposes.
However, several Democrats withdrew their support and sounded alarms it could cripple U.S. relations with Turkey.
The most notable Democratic challenge mounted this week came from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., an anti-war ally of Pelosi, and chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Also this week, at least six Democrats withdrew their sponsorship of the bill and two other Democrats, Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida and John Tanner of Tennessee, asked Pelosi to forgo the vote.
In other developments:
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