Saturday, February 23, 2008

Iraq Protests Turkish Military Incursion

Iraq Protests Turkish Military Incursion

By Daniel Schearf

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Iraq's central and regional governments have protested the Turkish army's incursion into Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels. Iraqi authorities say military action will not solve the Kurdish rebel problem and have called for diplomatic pressure on Ankara to withdraw its forces and use diplomacy instead. Daniel Schearf reports for VOA from Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Irbil - Iraq's Foreign Minister Friday summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest Ankara's military incursion into northern Iraq.

Turkish media reports tanks and hundreds of Turkish troops crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan late Thursday in an effort to sweep out rebels from the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).

The action followed an intense bombardment by Turkish artillery and warplanes on suspected PKK bases inside Iraq.

Falah Mustafa Bakir is head of foreign relations for the largely autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. He says the Turkish army has reached areas previously thought safe from the conflict and already destroyed two bridges important to villagers.

"We believe that it's the responsibility of the United States, of the federal Iraqi government, and the international community to put pressure on Turkey so that we find a different way of handling this problem," he said. "We understand that this is a problem, but it cannot be solved through military operations."

In Washington, State Department officials called on Turkey to limit the scope of its ground incursion in northern Iraq and bring it to an early conclusion. The United States considers the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist organization, but wants the Ankara government to limit its latest military drive against the Kurdish group out of concern for the broader security situation in Iraq.

Turkey has been fighting a decades-long battle with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey who want to form an independent Kurdistan. Tens of thousands have been killed in the fighting.

Turkey says the PKK has been using bases in Iraqi Kurdistan to launch attacks into Turkey and that the Iraqi authorities are not doing enough to stop them.

Bakir disagrees and says the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken a number of measures since last year to limit the movement of the PKK.

"We have tightened the control at the checkpoints, at the airports, at the hospitals, supply routes," he added. "All of these measures have been taken by the KRG in order to show our goodwill to the Turkish side that we are not part of the problem and our people should not pay a price for a problem that they have nothing to do with, because the PKK is an internal Turkish issue."

Bakir says he cannot confirm claims by the PKK that they killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded eight more during the fighting.

The European Union has also urged Turkey to limit its military actions in Iraq.

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