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Turkey Approves Iraq Invasion

Turkey's parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a possible cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, although the government appears willing to give more time to diplomatic pressure on the U.S.-backed Iraqi administration.

Parliament voted 507-19 in favor of empowering the government to order the military to cross into Iraq over a one-year period, Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said. Legislators burst into applause.

In Washington, President Bush said the United States was making clear to Turkey it should not send massive number of troops into Iraq.

Turkish leaders have stressed that an offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, would not immediately follow the expected authorization.

"The passage of the motion in parliament does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday. "Turkey will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe."

Hours before the vote, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt the "terrorist activities" of the PKK on Iraqi territory, and he emphasized the need for the two nations to continue to talk, his office said in a statement.

Iraq has urged Turkey not to send troops across the border to pursue separatist Kurds in mountain hideouts. It dispatched one of its two vice presidents to Ankara on Tuesday and called for a diplomatic solution to tensions that have raised fears of a new front in the Iraq war.

"Iraq must be given the chance to stop PKK rebels who cross the border before Turkey takes any step," the Anatolia news agency quoted Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi as saying before his departure from Ankara.

"I got what I wanted from our talks. There is a new atmosphere to stop the current crisis," he was also quoted as saying. Al-Hashimi met Tuesday with Erdogan and other Turkish officials.

Hours before the vote in parliament, Turkey invited ambassadors from countries bordering Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations to the Foreign Ministry for a briefing on why it was passing the motion in parliament.

The motion, authorizing an attack into Iraq sometime over the next year, had the backing of all but one party in parliament. Only a small Kurdish party voted against it.

Public anger over attacks by Kurdish guerrillas is high but Turkish officials are mindful that two dozen Iraqi campaigns since the 1980s have failed to eradicate the PKK. A cross-border attack into northern Iraq could also strain ties with the United States, a NATO ally that opposes any disruption of its efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Kurdish rebels from the PKK have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Turkey has complained about what it considers a lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK, a frustration with Washington intensified because of another sensitive issue: the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

A panel in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution last week labeling the killings genocide, an affront to Turks who deny there was any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the prospects of a vote on the genocide bill in the full House were uncertain.

Her statement came after several members pulled their support for the resolution out of fear that it would cripple U.S. relations with Turkey.

Another prominent Democrat also predicted the resolution would fail in the House. Congressman John Murtha says his party's leadership underestimated opposition to the resolution.

In other developments:

  • The Pentagon is set to alert eight National Guard units to be ready for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan starting late next summer. Defense officials tell AP that seven of the units will deploy to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. An announcement is not expected until later this week. The military is reaching out to more Guard units to ease strain on active-duty Army personnel and provide security for ports, convoys and installations. U.S. officials are also trying to maintain necessary troop levels. Specific brigades were not identified, but the officials say they will include units from North Carolina, Oklahoma, Illinois and Hawaii.
  • A State Department review of private security guards hired for diplomats in Iraq is unlikely to recommend firing Blackwater USA because of the deaths of 17 Iraqis last month, but the company probably is on the way out of that job, U.S. officials said Wednesday. Blackwater's contract for escorting U.S. diplomats outside the protected Green Zone in Baghdad expires in May, one official said, and other officials told The Associated Press they expect the North Carolina company will not continue to work for the U.S. Embassy after that. It is likely that Blackwater will not compete to keep the job, one official said. Blackwater probably will not be fired outright or even "eased out," the official added, but there is a mutual feeling that the Sept. 16 shooting deaths mean the company cannot continue in its current role.
  • U.S. soldiers who guarded the lockup that housed Saddam Hussein in his last months testified Wednesday their camp commander let former regime inmates - including those on death row - use his cell phone for unmonitored calls. The testimony, on the third day of the court-martial of 52-year-old Lt. Col. William H. Steele, an Army reservist from Prince George, Virginia, faces a life sentence if convicted on the charge of aiding the enemy by allowing the prisoners use his phone.
  • While Iraqis are unlikely to enjoy 24 hours a day of electrical power until 2013, they are getting about 15 hours on average nationwide, far above expectations, says the Army Corps of Engineers. Progress in reconstruction extends also to health care, with 28 newly opened primary clinics, 12 of them in Baghdad, the capital, Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Corps' Gulf region division for a year, said Tuesday.
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