Turkey army launches land offensive into Iraq

Turkish troops have crossed into northern Iraq in their hunt for Kurdish PKK guerrillas, the military said on Friday, but the United States and the European Union urged Ankara to keep the campaign limited.

The White House said the US had been informed in advance of the incursion and urged Turkey to limit the operation to “precise targeting” of the PKK rebels hiding there.

Turkish TV said 3 000 to 10 000 soldiers had entered Iraq, but Iraq’s foreign minister and a senior military official with coalition forces based in Baghdad denied it was a major operation, saying only a few hundred troops were involved.

The European Union repeated its call for Turkey, which is seeking EU membership, to refrain from any disproportionate military action.

“The Turkish Armed Forces, which attach great importance to Iraq’s territorial integrity and stability, will return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved,” the General Staff said in a statement.

The General Staff did not specify the size of the operation.

A military source based in south-east Turkey said: “Thousands of troops have crossed the border and thousands more are waiting at the border to join them if necessary.”

A PKK spokesperson said rebels were battling Turkish troops.

“There are severe clashes. Two Turkish soldiers have been killed and eight wounded. There are no PKK casualties,” Ahmed Danees, head of foreign relations for the PKK, said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location in northern Iraq.

It was not possible to independently verify his statement.

Iraq’s foreign minister played down the operation.

“There has not been any major incursion or land invasion ...
What is going on is around a few hundred Turkish forces have crossed the border looking for the PKK or their bases,” Hoshiyar Zebari said by telephone.

A senior military officer with US-led coalition forces based in Baghdad made a similar estimate of the number of troops involved. “A few hundred, at most,” the source said.

Earlier, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a US military spokesperson in Baghdad, said the operation was understood to be of “limited duration” and aimed solely at PKK fighters in the area.

Nato member Turkey says it has the right under international law to hit PKK rebels who shelter in northern Iraq and have mounted attacks inside Turkey that have killed scores of troops. Turkey says about 3 000 PKK rebels are based in Iraq.

Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40 000 people since it began an armed struggle for a Kurdish homeland in south-east Turkey in 1984. Washington and the EU, like Turkey, classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation.—Reuters

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