Turkey risks US anger over plan to attack Kurds

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The Independent Online

The Turkish army may move into northern Iraq if violence by Turkish-Kurdish guerrillas continues, officials said yesterday.

Such a move could put Turkey on a collision course with the United States, which has repeatedly warned against unilateral action in Iraq.

But the Turkish government is facing increasing domestic pressure to act after 15 soldiers, police and guards were killed in fighting with the guerrillas in the past week.

"The government is really in a bind," said Seyfi Tashan, the director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Bilkent University in Ankara. "On the one hand they don't want things to break down with the United States. On the other hand, the public is crying for action."

Diplomats cautioned that the increasingly aggressive Turkish statements were probably aimed at calming public anger. But they also increase pressure on the US and Iraq to act against the rebels, who are based in northern Iraq's rugged Qandil mountains.

US officials in Turkey and Washington are said to be pressing their Turkish counterparts to work with them to fight the guerrillas rather than act alone.

Any operation is unlikely to take place before the end of August, when the current military chief of staff will be replaced by an officer widely regarded as a hardliner.

The plans range from limited artillery and air strikes on guerrilla bases to attacks by commando forces or a broader ground offensive.

American officials, including the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, have repeatedly warned Turkey against entering northern Iraq, which is one of the few stable areas of the troubled country.