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Iraq Gov’t Criticizes Turkish Incursion

Saturday, February 23, 2008
Newsmax.com

 

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government criticized Turkey’s ground incursion into northern Iraq targeting Kurdish rebels, saying Saturday that military force won’t solve the problem. The country’s Kurdish president warned Turkey not to target civilians.
The troop crossing was Turkey’s first major ground incursion against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq in nearly a decade. Turkey has sought to avoid confrontation with U.S.-backed Iraq, saying the guerrillas were its only target.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraqis understood that Turkey faced threats from the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a battle for Kurdish autonomy for years, often using bases in northern Iraq.
“But military operations will not solve the PKK problem. Turkey has resorted to military options but this never resulted in a good thing,” al-Dabbagh said at a news conference. “Turkey should adopt another type of solution.”
The rebels are fighting for autonomy in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and have carried out attacks on Turkish targets from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The conflict started in 1984 and has claimed as many as 40,000 lives.
The advance was the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turkey’s army is believed to have carried out unacknowledged “hot pursuits” in recent years, with small groups of troops staying in Iraq for as little as a few hours or a day.
Iraq’s Kurdish President Massoud Barzani warned that the regional government would not stand by if the Turks struck civilians.
“The regional government of Kurdistan will not be a part of the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK fighters. But at the same time, we stress that if the Turkish military targets any Kurdish civilian citizens or any civilian structures, then we will order a large-scale resistance,” it said.
Tariq Jawhar, a spokesman for the National Assembly of Kurdistan, a regional body, called on the U.S. and Iraqi leadership to intervene and stop the Turkish operations.
“We want the Iraqi federal government and the U.S. to … work hard to stop this aggression and to seek peaceful negotiation to solve the problem,” he said. “Such military operations are considered a clear violation of the federal Iraqi territory.”
The offensive started late Thursday after aircraft and artillery blasted suspected rebel targets. It marked a dramatic escalation in Turkey’s fight with the PKK, even though Turkish officials described the operation as limited.
The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union as well as Turkey.
The size and scope of the assault has been difficult to confirm, with media reports saying as many as 10,000 Turkish soldiers could be involved.
Al-Dabbagh said less than 1,000 Turkish troops had crossed into Iraq. A military officer of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has said on condition of anonymity that several hundred Turkish soldiers had crossed the border.
The Turkish military has said five of its soldiers and 24 rebels had died in a clash inside Iraq and estimated at least 20 more rebels were killed by artillery and helicopter gunships.
Turkish commanders have assured Iraq that the “operation will be a limited one and it will not violate certain standards that they have set,” the Iraqi spokesman said, noting that Iraq’s president and prime minister had spoken to Turkish officials.
Turkey staged about two-dozen attacks in Iraq during the rule of Saddam, who conducted brutal campaigns against Iraqi Kurds.
Some Turkish offensives, including several in the late 1990s, involved tens of thousands of soldiers. Results were mixed, however, with rebels suffering combat losses and regrouping after Turkish forces withdrew.
Iraq’s Oil Ministry, meanwhile, ruled out halting oil exports through Turkey because of the military operations. A pipeline that runs into Turkey was often halted in past years due to sabotage, but is now pumping more than 300,000 barrels per day.
“Turkish military operations will not affect pumping oil through this pipeline as both Iraqi and Turkish governments are keen not to halt it,” Assem Jihad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.