He stressed that Turkey's sole target, if its troops entered northern Iraq, would be the estimated 3,000 PKK fighters believed to be in the region.

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, twice acquired similar authorisations from parliament in 2003, but did not act on them.

Diplomatic solution

In response, Baghdad urged Turkey to be "patient" and not to resort to military action.

"The Iraqi government calls on the Turkish government to pursue a diplomatic solution and not a military solution to solve the [problem] of terrorist attacks which our dear neighbour Turkey has witnessed from the PKK," Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraqi government spokesman, said.

In video


Hoda Abdel Hamid reports from the Turkey-Iraq border

Ahead of the cabinet's decision, a senior Turkish general said that it was too early to discuss the timing or size of a possible incursion.

"If this duty is assigned to us, we will look at the scale on which it will be carried out. It is not possible to say this right now," General Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of the general staff, said.

Ankara says the PKK uses bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks inside Turkey, the latest of which killed 15 soldiers last week.

Saygun dismissed suggestions that Nato's second-biggest army had only a limited window of opportunity to attack before winter conditions made such a move impossible.   

"The season would be taken into consideration, and other needs as well .... But we cannot say that we'll go to Iraq if it doesn't snow or we won't go if it does," he said.

Duran Kalkan, a senior commander in the PKK, said that the Turkish military would suffer a serious blow if it launched such an offensive.

According to the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, he said that Turkey would "be bogged down in a quagmire" in northern Iraq.

Border 'calm'

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid in northern Iraq said on Monday that the situation along the border was quite calm.

"There was a night of intense shelling along the border on Saturday but for the last 24 hours it has been calm," she said.

"We all have an interest in a stable Iraq and a desire to see the PKK brought to justice"

Gordon Johndroe, White House spokesman
"We have been travelling backwards and forwards along the border and we have seen some minimal troops movements on the other side."

US officials said last week that there are about 60,000 Turkish troops along the country's southern border with Iraq, but the US military has not seen activity to suggest an imminent offensive.

On Monday, the US repeated its call for the Turkish military to refrain from crossing the border.
  
"We all have an interest in a stable Iraq and a desire to see the PKK brought to justice," Gordon Johndroe, White House spokesman, said.
  
"But we urge the Turks to continue their discussions with us and the Iraqis and to show restraint from any potentially destabilising actions."

'Cost calculated'

However, Erdogan had already said that international pressure would not deter Ankara. "The cost has already been calculated," he said.

Ankara has also long complained that Washington has not done enough on its own or through the Iraqi government to crack down on the Kurdish separatists.

The PKK, which is labelled as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, began an independence struggle in Turkey in 1984 that has left more than 37,000 people dead.
 
Turkey and Iraq last month signed an accord pledging to combat the group, but failed to agree on a clause allowing Turkish troops to carry out "hot pursuit" operations against rebels fleeing into Iraqi territory, as they did regularly in the 1990s.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies