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Friday, October 12, 2007      New: Take a Stand

Turkey preparing for November invasion, longterm stay

ANKARA Turkey has placed its military on the highest state of alert in preparation for a major invasion of neighboring Iraq that could take place by the end of November.

Officials said the Turkish military has deployed tens of thousands of troops, backed by attack helicopters, main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery, in forward positions along the Iraqi border. They said the Turkish force could cross the Iraqi border and attack the Kurdish Workers Party within hours of any order.

"There is a very tense situation along the Iraqi border, and the military is waiting for the green light," an official said.raq.

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On Wednesday, the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution that deemed Turkey responsible for the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Turkey has warned of a crisis in U.S. relations if the resolution, which termed the Armenian deaths a genocide, was passed by the full House, Middle East Newsline reported.

Turkey has served as the route for 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq. About one-third of U.S. military fuel as well as 95 percent of new vehicles designed to resist improvised explosive devices in Iraq were said to pass through Turkey.

"Access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Officials said the Turkish General Staff has relayed a series of options to the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan for a military invasion of Iraq. They said the most far-reaching proposal called for a long-term Turkish military stay in northern Iraq near the provincial capital of Kirkuk.

"There is no need to say something new," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said. "Everything will be done in a planned way."

Officials said Erdogan would attempt to block any approval for a Turkish invasion until the end of November. They said the prime minister intends to meet U.S. President George Bush in Washington during the second half of next month.

Over the last 15 years, Turkey has maintained a brigade just inside Iraq under an agreement with Iraqi Kurds. But the brigade has been deployed in northwestern Iraq, far from the PKK camps.

The military has been urging the government to exploit any Turkish invasion to prevent the Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk. Kirkuk, regarded as the oil capital of northern Iraq, contains a large Turkish minority.

Officials said the military recommendations were being examined by government and parliamentary leaders. They said they expected parliament to approve a major military operation over the next few days in wake of the House Foreign Relations Committee resolution on the Armenian genocide.

Amid Ankara's preparations, the PKK was said to have withdrawn its units from Turkey and returned to camps in Iraq's Kandil mountains, about 65 kilometers south of the border. Officials said the PKK has used the Garbar mountains as a supply route to Turkey.

On Wednesday, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that the military shelled PKK camps in northern Iraq. Hurriyet said Turkish forces also targeted PKK fighters in Garbar.

"A cross-border operation in the spring would undoubtedly have affected PKK's offensive capabilities during the subsequent campaigning season." the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation said. "However, an autumn operation, when the campaigning season is already drawing to a close, is likely to have only a limited effect on the PKK's ability to return to the offensive once the winter snows begin to melt in spring 2008.

Still, the Erdogan government has been under pressure to authorize massive retaliation against the PKK in wake of the killing of 15 Turkish soldiers in a 24-hour period this week. Opposition parties have urged the government to approve a military invasion despite U.S. opposition.

"I suggest the prime minister hold a referendum on the cross-border operation," Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli said. "Turkey is not a small sized cantonal state. It can't be governed through instructions of other countries."

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