ANKARA, (AFP) – Turkish lawmakers were to vote Wednesday on extending the government’s mandate to order military strikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, days after 17 soldiers were killed in a bloody attack near the border.
Parliament, scheduled to convene at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), was expected to overwhelmingly back the motion that gives the government a fresh one-year mandate for one or more cross-border operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
All parties — except the Democratic Society Party, the country’s main Kurdish political movement — are unanimous on the need to strike at the rebels inside their Iraqi strongholds amid nationwide outrage over Friday’s deadly attack on a military outpost in the border province of Hakkari.
In what was the bloodiest fighting this year, a large group of rebels used the cover of heavy weapons fire from northern Iraq in an attempt to take out the outpost in the border province of Hakkari.
Twenty-three militants were killed in the ensuing clash, and two more rebels were killed Monday in continuing security operations in area, the army said.
Speaking a day before the vote, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed Turkey’s right to self-defence and said Ankara would launch a cross-border incursion if necessary to rout the rebels.
Such an operation will be carried out “if need be, at the right time and under the right conditions with a view of obtaining the right result,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling party.
“The sole target of a possible cross-border operation will be the terrorist organisation,” Erdogan said, referring to the PKK.
Under the current authorisation that expires on October 17, the Turkish army has carried out several air strikes in northern Iraq as well as a week-long ground incursion in February that left more than 200 militants dead.
The operations were backed by intelligence from the United States which nonetheless fears that a large-scale Turkish intervention could destabilise the relatively calm north of Iraq.
Ankara charges that about 2,000 PKK rebels are holed up in the autonomous enclave where they enjoy free movement, are tolerated by the region’s Kurdish leaders and obtains weapons and explosives for attacks in Turkey.
Iraqi authorities have repeatedly pledged to curb the PKK, but say the group takes refuge in mountainous regions to which access is difficult.
The PKK — considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union — has been fighting for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast and east of Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed some 44,000 lives.