Turkish parliament extends mandate for incursions into northern Iraq

Reuters News

10/11/2012 5:49:34 PM - Reuters News

By Ayla Jean Yackley

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's parliament on Thursday renewed a mandate for another year allowing the government to send troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebel fighters, despite objections from Baghdad.

The parliamentary motion permits the government to "send members of the Turkish armed forces, with the aim of doing away with the threat of terrorism and attacks, in cross-border operations in Iraq's northern region where the PKK has built its nest", the CNNTurk news channel cited the mandate as saying on its website.

The mandate was first passed in 2007 and has been extended every year since, permitting the army to conduct operations across the southeastern border against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed separatist group with bases in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

The past few months have seen some of the heaviest fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK since the PKK took up arms in 1984, with Turkish fighter jets and attack helicopters bombarding the rebels on both sides of the Iraqi border.

Relations between Turkey and Iraq have cooled sharply in recent months over mutual charges of sectarianism, and Baghdad this month asked Turkey to stop attacking the PKK on its territory.

But the PKK's hideouts are out of Baghdad's reach, in the virtually impassable mountainous north of Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been autonomous since 1991 and has its own armed forces, who are responsible for defending Iraq's border with Turkey.

Turkey most recently sent ground forces into Iraq in 2008 and has an estimated 1,000 troops based there under an agreement with Iraq dating from the 1990s.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, aims to carve out a homeland in southeastern Turkey for an estimated 15 million ethnic Kurds. More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in almost three decades of violence.

Separately, the Turkish parliament last week authorized the government to send troops into Syria, Turkey's southern neighbor, in response to shelling by President Bashar al-Assad's forces into Turkish territory that killed civilians.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Assad's crackdown on a popular uprising, has accused Syria's government of backing the PKK in its recent escalation of attacks.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)