The Turkish Parliament Wednesday approved a possible cross-border offensive into Northern Iraq in response to tensions between Turkey and Kurdish rebels in the region. International policy experts discuss the likelihood of armed conflict in the border region and the impact of Turkey's vote.
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Despite a warning from President Bush, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorize Turkish troops to take the fight against Kurdish rebels into Iraq. It gives Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a year's authority to send troops across the border. It passed 507-19, with only Kurdish deputies voting no.
The rebels are members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The nationalist group has been fighting for an autonomous region in southeastern Turkey for more than 20 years. The Turkish government accuses the Kurdish leaders who are now running northern Iraq of giving sanctuary to the PKK rebels and allowing them to launch attacks from Iraq into Turkey, but Kurdish leaders in Iraq deny this charge.
For their part, the rebels vowed to fight. The head of the PKK in Iraq told Al Jazeera, "Turkey is preparing for an attack. Then we have to resist."
Tensions along the border has mounted in recent weeks. Turks have shelled PKK strongholds in Iraq and have been increasing their military presence near the border. Thirteen Turkish troops were killed last week in a PKK raid.
Iraq insists it has been trying to stem the PKK and is calling for diplomacy. One day after Iraq dispatched Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to Ankara to appeal for more time, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, advocated a U.S.-led multilateral solution. He spoke in Paris.
JALAL TALABANI, President of Iraq: We hope that the wisdom of our friend, Prime Minister Erdogan, will be so active that there will be no military intervention. And we, Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government, are ready to cooperate with Turkish authorities.
The parliament's vote came amid rising Turkish anger at a resolution approved last week by a U.S. House committee labeling mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks 100 years ago as "genocide." Prime Minister Erdogan has rejected that label, and President Bush warned again today that the pro-Armenian moves threaten to destabilize the U.S. war in Iraq.
Turkey provides a crucial supply route for U.S. troops. About 24,000 of the 160,000 U.S. troops who are stationed in Iraq are in the north, and they could be caught in the crossfire if and when the Turkish military decides to cross the border.
For more on Turkey's vote today, we get two views. Bulent Aliriza is a senior associate and director of Turkish studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Peter Galbraith has been an adviser to Kurdish leaders in Iraq. He is senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and he was ambassador to Croatia during the Clinton administration.
Gentlemen, good to have both of you with us. We appreciate it.
Mr. Aliriza, to you first. The vote in the Turkish parliament today, why so lopsided?
BULENT ALIRIZA, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, because the governing party, the Justice and Development Party – AKP, to use its Turkish acronym — and the two main opposition parties agreed on the need to pass this resolution responding to the escalation of attacks by the PKK. The only ones who opposed it were the ethnic Kurdish MPs belonging to the small Democratic Society Party. And I think that reflects the attitude of the majority of the Turks.
So the Turkish public is behind this?
Oh, very much so.
The non-Kurdish, we should say, Turkish public who are, what, 75 percent, 80 percent?
The Kurdish population inside Turkey is about 15 million to 20 million out of 75 million. So I think that reflects the percentage that you mentioned.