Turkey Due to Vote on Iraqi Attack

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The Turkish parliament is due to vote to approve plans to cross Iraq's northern border to attack Kurdish militants. The U.S. urges restraint. Iraq's vice president held emergency talks in the Turkish capital, Ankara, to try to head off a clash.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Turkey takes another step closer to crossing Iraq's northern border to attack Kurdish militants there. The Turkish parliament is expected to vote today to approve the plans. The U.S. has urged restraint, but there's little doubt the vote will pass.

In a televised interview, Turkey's prime minister said he was sure of a sweeping vote. There is common will, he said. The measure comes after more than 30 Turkish policemen, civilians and soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels belonging to the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, who crossed the border into southeastern Turkey.

Iraq's vice-president held emergency talks in the Turkish capital Ankara to try to head off a military operation.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in Ankara. Good morning.

IVAN WATSON: Good morning, Deb.

AMOS: Ivan, Turkey is threatening to move against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. How strong is the support for this measure in Turkey?

WATSON: Well, top Turkish government officials, they predict that most parliament members will vote in favor of this measure. This resolution will authorize the military to conduct cross-border attacks for a period of up to a year. The Turkish government has repeatedly called this measure one of last resort.

And yesterday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, he said that this doesn't mean that there will be an immediate attack into Iraq after parliament gives this approval. But the fear is if there is another deadly clash in southeastern Turkey, the Turkish leadership will come under immense public pressure to show decisive action and then possibly send the troops in across the border.

AMOS: Ivan, Iraq's vice-president has been in Ankara. What arguments is he making?

WATSON: Well, the Iraqis are calling for a diplomatic solution. They're saying, we understand you're paying Turkey, but we don't think the answer is to conduct a cross-border military operation.

AMOS: And the United States has weighed in. And what are they saying?

WATSON: Well, the U.S. is also calling for restraint. The fear is that a confrontation across the border could destabilize what up until now has been the safest part of Iraq - that's the Kurdish controlled northern part of Iraq. But U.S. officials here in Ankara do seem to understand that the Turks have run out of patience when it comes to the PKK, and in particular, to Iraq's lack of ability to deal with the rebels on its territory.

Yesterday, I spoke with the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, Ross Wilson, about today's parliamentary vote.

Ambassador ROSS WILSON (U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, Turkey): It will send a very strong signal to the PKK, to the authorities in Baghdad, and to the authorities in northern Iraq that steps must be taken to stem this problem of terrorist violence that is striking at Turkish soldiers and Turkish civilians, particularly in the southeast of Turkey.

AMOS: A strong signal, yes. But this isn't the first time that there have been clashes, correct? Between Turkey and the PKK?

WATSON: No. Well, in fact, this war's been going on for 23 years, mostly in southeastern Turkey. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Saddam Hussein looked the other way and allowed the Turks to conduct multiple cross-borders incursions against the PKK in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Yesterday, the leader of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, he met with journalists in one of the mountain bases there. And he was defiant. He effectively said, bring it on.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

NPR's Ivan Watson in Ankara, Turkey, where today the Turkish parliament is expected to approve cross-border military operations against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

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