Iraq urged Turkey on Tuesday not to launch a major attack on Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would strike the rebels when the timing and conditions were right.
Baghdad sent Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to Ankara and called for urgent talks to head off military action that Washington fears could sow chaos in an area so far spared much of the carnage afflicting other parts of Iraq.
"A political solution must be given priority to resolve this critical issue," Hashemi told reporters in the Turkish capital.
"We can understand Turkey's anger but what I'm aiming to achieve during my visit is a common understanding," he said ahead of talks with the prime minister, foreign minister and president.
Erdogan's cabinet asked parliament on Monday for permission to launch cross-border offensives following a spate of Kurdish separatist attacks. Approval is expected on Wednesday.
Erdogan said on Tuesday that securing permission for a major attack against rebels in northern Iraq did not necessarily mean a military incursion was imminent.
Instead, Erdogan said "we will act at the right time and under the right conditions".
"This is about self-defence," he told his ruling AK Party.
The prospect of a strike into mainly Kurdish northern Iraq helped push oil prices to a record above $88 a barrel. The Turkish lira fell 1.5 percent against the dollar.
Washington has urged restraint on Turkey, strategically located between Europe and the Middle East. It relies on Turkey for logistical support for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Turkey, for its part, argues that the United States and Iraq have done too little to curb some 3,000 Kurdish rebels attacking eastern Turkey in pursuit of an independent state there.
The Iraqi government has little authority to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters sheltering in the north of the country, where Iraqi Kurds enjoy wide autonomy.
PRESSURE TO ACT
Dozens of soldiers and civilians have been killed in recent weeks by PKK rebels, piling pressure on the government to act.
The Turkish military has long called for permission to hunt down PKK rebels in northern Iraq. The Iraqi government has very little sway over affairs in northern Iraq.
Under heavy security, General Ilker Basbug, head of the land forces, inspected units stationed in the Turkish border province of Sirnak, which has been hardest hit by recent PKK attacks.
A paramilitary officer became the latest casualty when he stepped on a rebel-laid mine, security sources said.
Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed struggle in southeast Turkey.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a "crisis cell" in the government established to monitor developments along the Turkish border to meet on Tuesday.
"We are ready to have urgent talks with senior officials in the Turkish government to discuss all the pending issues and to give guarantees which would regulate relations between the two neighboring countries," Maliki's office said in a statement.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned of the danger of a refugee crisis in northern Iraq in the event of a Turkish operation.
Some analysts and diplomats say an operation is more likely after a vote last week in which a U.S. congressional committee branded killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One as genocide -- a charge Turkey denies.
"There is no formal linkage (between the Armenian bill and an Iraq operation) except psychological," Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. national security council adviser, told Reuters.
"I hope we can work with the Turks to prevent this cross-border operation. We have taken some steps but they have been very inadequate," he said, adding that anything the U.S. administration could do to demonstrate it took Turkey's concerns seriously would go a long way in easing tensions.
Turkey recalled its ambassador from the United States for consultations after the Congressional vote.