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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Turkish troops along Iraqi border on high alert

RIA Novosti

19/10/2007 13:54 ANKARA, October 19 (RIA Novosti) - Turkish troops amassed along the Iraqi border are on high alert, Turkish media reported on Friday.

On Wednesday, Turkey's parliament sanctioned military cross-border operations against some 3,500 Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, following a government request earlier this week.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that parliamentary approval did not necessarily mean that the operation would begin immediately: "It will be conducted when the time is right, when necessary."

According to the Sabah newspaper, troops are still involved in operations against Kurdish militants in the Kato mountains in Turkey's southwest province of Sirnak.

Local media also report that the Turkish Army commander and other military officials are currently inspecting troops in the area.

Commenting on the situation, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "We call on the Turkish and Iraqi parties to make discussions between the two countries' leaders as constructive as possible. In the search for a necessary political solution to the present acute problems, [the parties] should be guided by the interests of regional security and stability, as well as the strengthening of Iraqi state sovereignty and territorial integrity".

The U.S. has urged Turkey not to launch a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels and President George Bush said: "We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq."

Iraq has protested against Turkish military action on its territory, calling it "aggression against Iraq and its territorial integrity." Erdogan responded that Ankara was not after Iraq's territory or sovereignty, but sought to counter the mounting terrorism threat emanating from the country.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh earlier said he was relying on the U.S. to stop the Turkish armed forces from invading: "We hope that the U.S. will help us prevent any intrusion of regional forces."

He said any Turkish military intrusion would set a "dangerous precedent for the region." He also called on Turkey to develop bilateral cooperation with the Iraqi Kurdistan government.

"The elected Turkish government has a chance to develop economical and political cooperation with Kurdistan, putting an end to the vicious circle of violence," he said, adding that the dispute had a long history, and could not be solved by force.

Iraqi Kurds themselves have made it clear they are ready to answer any aggression. The AFP news agency quotes a statement issued from the office of Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani as saying: "We say to all parties: if they attack the region or the Kurdistan experiment under whatever pretext, we will be completely ready to defend our democratic experiment and the dignity of our people and the sanctity of our homeland".

The Turkish armed forces conducted a number of operations in the area between 1992 and 2002. In the largest of these, 1997's operation "Hammer," some Kurdish 2,700 militants were killed.

Local media said the Turkish leadership was considering imposing sanctions against Massoud Barzani, president of the Autonomous Kurdish Government in Iraq and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, accusing him of supporting the PKK. The party has been fighting for autonomy status in southeast Turkey for nearly 25 years. The conflict has so far claimed about 40,000 lives.

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