Turkish Deputies Approve Continued Patrols of Iraqi No-Fly Zone
Turkey's parliament on Sunday extended the mandate of US and British planes to patrol a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, despite Iraqi calls on Ankara to withdraw its consent, Anatolia news agency said.
Operation Northern Watch (ONW), a force of some 45 US and British planes charged with enforcing the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel to protect local Kurds, is based at Incirlik in the southern Turkish province of Adana.
ONW began on January 1, 1997, since the Turkish parliament renewed its mandate which is every six months.
It was preceded by Operation Provide Comfort, which ran from April 1991 to December 1996.
Sunday's decision extends ONW for another six months from December 31.
Baghdad does not recognize the northern no-fly zone, nor a similar exclusion zone in the south of the country aimed at protecting the Shiite Muslim population. Neither is authorized by any specific United Nations resolution.
Iraqi forces have regularly fired on patrol aircraft since US-British air raids on Baghdad in December 1998.
The US says the planes only target military objectives in self-defense. Iraq says that civilians are frequently hit.
In October, Turkish deputies threatened not to extend the ONW mandate if the US Congress recognized the controversial killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, withdrew the bill after US President Clinton cited national security interests, notably the risk of damaging ties with NATO ally Turkey.
Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu told parliament Sunday that Ankara benefitted from ONW in its pursuit of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has long used northern Iraq -- outside Baghdad's control since the Gulf War -- as a launch pad for attacks on Turkish territory.
Ankara says some 4,000 rebels have crossed to northern Iraq since autumn 1999 when the PKK said it was halting its armed struggle and withdrawing from Turkey to seek a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict.
Much to Iraqi anger, Turkey frequently launches incursions into the area to hunt the rebels.
At the same time it firmly supports Iraq's territorial integrity out of fears that any move towards Kurdish independence in northern Iraq could encourage its own separatist-minded Kurds.
"We see this region as an indivisible part of Iraq. We hope that the current extraordinary circumstances will be eradicated as soon as possible," Cakmakoglu said, according to Anatolia.
Some 36,500 people have been killed in clashes between Turkish troops and the PKK since 1984 when the rebels took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey -- ANKARA (AFP)
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