( Reuters ) - Turkey is serious about sending troops into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdish separatist rebels hiding there and is not bluffing, a senior minister was quoted on Friday as saying.
Turkey's parliament approved a motion on Wednesday allowing its troops to launch cross-border incursions, defying appeals from the United States and Baghdad. The Pentagon then irked the Turks by suggesting Ankara lacked the appetite for action.
"We have made the decision and we will do what is necessary. We are not reluctant. There is no going back on this," Today's Zaman newspaper quoted Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek as saying in an interview.
Cicek, who oversees the coordination of Turkey's counter-terrorism efforts, said "military needs" would dictate the timing and scope of any army operation.
The parliamentary motion, backed by the bulk of Turkey's parliamentarians, is valid for one year but sets out no timetable for military action. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that military operations are not imminent.
But Turkey's government is under heavy public pressure to act after a series of deadly attacks by rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Turkish troops.
Some 3,000 PKK rebels are believed to be hiding in mountainous, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq, a region they use as a launchpad for attacks on Turkish security targets.
Thousands of Iraqi Kurds marched on Thursday in Arbil, capital of their autonomous region, to protest against Turkey's authorisation of military incursions and to call for peaceful dialogue.
But Cicek repeated Ankara's refusal to deal directly with the Iraqi Kurdish administration.
"We don't talk with Iraqi Kurdish groups. Our interlocutor is the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and we discuss whatever we want with its representatives. Northern Iraq is a part of Iraq," said Cicek.
Ankara has accused Iraqi Kurdish leaders of sheltering and even actively supporting the PKK, a group it blames for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Turkey also suspects the Iraqi Kurds of plotting to build an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, a move it fears could fan separatism among its own large ethnic Kurdish population and destabilise the whole region.