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Turkish ire may affect Iraq war

Congressional committee this week said Turkey was guilty of 'genocide' against Armenians.

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Two obsessions in Turkey may appear unrelated – a recent surge in Kurdish militant attacks and the mass killing of Armenians nearly a century ago – but they are swiftly combining as a strategic tipping point in US-Turkey relations that could affect American forces in Iraq.

Amid widespread calls for revenge after the killing of some 30 Turkish soldiers and civilians in two weeks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – and the failure of US and Iraqi forces to curb the attacks from bases in Iraq – the Turkish parliament is expected next week to authorize cross-border operations into northern Iraq.

Turkish warplanes and artillery are reportedly already targeting PKK camps, but an incursion could destabilize the one area of Iraq that has been relatively peaceful since the US invasion in 2003.

And complicating the situation is a US congressional committee's approval Wednesday of a resolution calling the 1915 massacres by Ottoman Turks a "genocide." Turkey called the decision "unacceptable," after warning that the vote could jeopardize US access to a military airbase crucial to resupplying US troops in Iraq.

President Bush said the non-binding resolution "would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror," echoing a letter from all eight living former secretaries of state opposing the resolution.

Turkey accuses the US and Iraqi Kurdish forces in northern Iraq of providing safe haven and military support for an estimated 3,000 PKK rebels, and not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks. US commanders and Iraqi Kurdish officials say they are doing all they can to stamp out PKK activity, but their reach is limited in the remote mountains along the border.

The US has "been caught between their tactical alliance with the Kurds in Iraq, and their strategic alliance – at least what it used to be – with Turkey," says Bulent Aliriza, a Turkey analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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