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Turkish general warns of irreversible damage

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey's top general warned that ties with the United States, already strained by attacks from rebels hiding in Iraq, will be irreversibly damaged if Congress passes a resolution that labels the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide.

Turkey, which is a major cargo hub for U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned that there might be a cut in the logistical support to the United States over the issue.

"If this resolution passed in the committee passes the House as well, our military ties with the U.S. will never be the same again," Gen. Yasar Buyukanit told the daily Milliyet newspaper.

Despite the general's strong words, it is not clear how far Turkey will go to express its dismay to Washington.

Turkey suspended its military ties with France last year after the French parliament's lower house adopted a bill that would have made it a crime to deny that the Armenian killings constituted a genocide.

But there is more at stake for NATO's only Muslim member when it comes to its relations with the United States. The Turkish military, and especially the air force, is heavily dependent on the American defense industry, experts say.

Still, when Washington imposed an arms embargo against Turkey in 1975 due to a dispute over Cyprus, Turkey ended all its logistical support to U.S. troops and sharing of intelligence until the embargo was lifted, said Onur Oymen, the country's former permanent representative to NATO.

President Bush has said the resolution is the wrong response to the Armenian deaths, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure's timing was important "because many of the survivors are very old."

In an interview broadcast Sunday with ABC's "This Week," Pelosi noted that the resolution would make the United States the 24th country to label the killings a genocide.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the measure was "irresponsible."

"Listen, there's no question that the suffering of the Armenian people some 90 years ago was extreme. But what happened 90 years ago ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington," he told "Fox News Sunday."

About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military there. Turkish truckers also carry water and other supplied to U.S. bases.

In addition, cargo planes fly supplies to U.S. soldiers in remote areas of Iraq from Incirlik, avoiding the use of Iraqi roads vulnerable to bomb attacks. U.S. officials say the arrangement helps reduce American casualties.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has "urged restraint" from Turkey and sent two officials to Ankara in an apparent attempt to ease fury over the measure, which could be voted on by the House by the end of the year.

At issue in the resolution is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Many international historians contend the deaths amounted to genocide, but Turkey says the mass killings and deportations were not systematic and that many Turkish Muslims also died in the chaos of war.

The congressional resolution comes as the Turkish parliament debates authorizing a military campaign into northern Iraq to root out rebels who seek a unified, independent nation for Kurds in the region.

U.S. officials have urged Turkey not to send troops and appealed for a diplomatic solution with Iraq. The Kurdish region in northern Iraq is one of the country's few relatively stable areas, and the Kurds here are also a longtime U.S. ally.

A Kurdish rebel commander on Saturday said Turkey would face a long and bloody conflict if it launched a large-scale offensive in northern Iraq.

Speaking to The Associated Press deep in the Qandil mountains straddling the Iraq-Turkish border, some 94 miles from the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, Murat Karayilan, head of the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, warned that an eventual Turkish incursion would "make Turkey experience a Vietnam war."

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey says the rebels use Iraqi Kurdish territory as a safe haven. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities reject the claim.