Turkey’s parliament gave approval in principle for military action in Syria and Iraq and the use of Turkish soil by foreign troops, as the government edges toward joining the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.
Members of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s ruling party and nationalists backed the motion, a broad mandate for an armed response to security threats that include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army and the Kurdish rebel organization PKK, based in northern Iraq, as well as the jihadists. It passed by 297 votes to 100, the assembly said in a final tally after the elimination of invalid votes, Hurriyet newspaper reported today.
The measure expands on previous mandates allowing cross-border troop deployments, and doesn’t necessarily mean Turkey will act. It does offer the latest signal that Turkey is ready, after initial reluctance, to join a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants who have seized territory along its border with Syria.
“The bill clarifies Turkey’s stance and allows our government and armed forces to take quick and effective measures against threats toward our national security on a legal basis,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told A Haber television in an interview late yesterday. “Islamic State’s seizure of all border crossings or Syrian regime’s air strikes primarily on Aleppo would mean greater waves of refugees for Turkey. We can’t be a spectator, it is out of the question.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey can’t stay out of the campaign, which he says should also include ground operations to permanently stop the militants. Erdogan and other Turkish officials have blamed Assad for enabling the Islamic State advance, and the removal of his government has been the main Turkish policy goal in Syria since the civil war broke out there in 2011.
The parliamentary approval would also allow Turkey to create a buffer zone in Syria to repatriate some of the refugees who fled to Turkey. Their number surged last month as Islamic State advanced against the largely Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, driving tens of thousands to flee.
The militants have besieged the town for two weeks and captured a strategic hill overlooking it yesterday, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency said. Clashes were taking place near the eastern and southern entrances of the town late yesterday, pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said today.
Turkey has blocked efforts by some Kurdish fighters to cross from Turkey into Syria to join the fight against the jihadists, drawing condemnation from its own Kurdish minority. That has jeopardized Erdogan’s efforts to end a three-decade conflict in largely Kurdish southeast Turkey by offering the population there wider rights.
Turkey must stop Islamic State’s onslaught against Kobani to prevent the peace process from collapsing, imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan said yesterday in a message delivered via political allies.
Kurdish lawmakers joined the main secular opposition party in the Turkish parliament in voting against yesterday’s motion authorizing troop deployments. They have cited concerns that any Turkish action would be intended to quash Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, rather than hitting Islamic State.