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TURKEY - Oct 15 - Turkish Cabinet Backs Iraq Foray.

The prospect of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq moved a step closer after Turkey's cabinet agrees to seek parliamentary approval for a military response to a resurgence of attacks by PKK separatists operating from mountain hideaways in Iraq. The move leaves Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's PM, facing the most difficult foreign policy test of his career as he juggles a possible military response to recent terrorist attacks with the need to avoid a complete breakdown in the country's relations with the US. Parliament is expected to vote on the issue this week against the backdrop of public and political resentment over a US congressional committee decision last week to acknowledge the massacre of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman empire as genocide. Erdogan's dilemma is further complicated by a mood of distrust between his government and Turkey's military. The general staff, under the command of General Yashar Buyukanit, clashed with the government this year over Turkey's political and social trajectory, prompting a snap election that saw Erdogan and his Justice and Development party returned with a huge mandate. The generals are demanding more freedom of manoeuvre in their battle with Kurdish separatists, in particular the ability to send forces into Iraq. The US opposes such a move, fearing the instability it could cause in Kurdish northern Iraq. The combination of the PKK - which has recently carried out several deadly attacks in Turkey - and the Armenian vote has exacerbated the anti-US mood among Turkish MPs and the public. Erdogan's challenge is to appease military hawks bent on pursuing the PKK, without reigniting a full-scale Turkish-Kurdish conflict, such as occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. He also has to assuage public opinion. He must achieve both without causing an irretrievable rift in US-Turkish relations as a result of retaliatory measures that could worsen the situation inside Iraq or restrict US access to Turkey's vital military infrastructure. Ahmet Evin, director of the Istanbul Policy Centre at Sabanci University, said the confluence of a possible incursion into Iraq with the Armenian resolution posed a policy challenge that required flexibility and sophistication. "Erdogan has to find a response that combines maximum efficiency with minimum damage", he said. Relations with the US have not been at such a point since early 2003, when Turkey refused to allow the invasion of Iraq from its territory. There were some signs they were improving but Gen Buyukanit said at the weekend that military ties between Turkey and the US - the foundation on which their 50-year-old strategic partnership is built - would "never be the same again" if the Armenian resolution was adopted by Congress. Erdogan is not an especially trigger-happy PM. He has said in the past that defeating the PKK would require more than a military response. His party did well in Kurdish areas in the July election. In theory, this should give him leeway to temper the military response to terrorism with a political response to counter continuing separatist sentiment among Turkey's Kurds. Omer Taspinar, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, argued that Erdogan needed to avoid playing into the hands of the PKK and the "deep state", a network of xenophobes, militarists and armchair generals who despise the Kurds and the government and would probably welcome a foreign policy fiasco. "To succumb to populist and nationalist anger is the tempting and easy thing to do", Taspinar wrote in a newspaper column. "Statesmanship, however, requires what is strategically sound rather than what is popular".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Oct 20, 2007
Words:579
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