Gonul, in answer to parliamentary questions, said the Turkish troops, deployed since 1992 in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, were there mainly to pursue the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

  

Turkish officers in the area also act as a liaison with US troops deployed in Kirkuk, Mosul and Tal Afar, the minister added.

  

An estimated 5000 Kurdish separatists have taken refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq, according to Turkish authorities.

  

The PKK waged a bloody 15-year war for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish eastern and south-eastern parts of Turkey before announcing a unilateral ceasefire in 1999.

 

The war is estimated to have killed 36,000 people.

 

The group called off the truce in June last year, threatening to carry out attacks and warning tourists and investors to stay away from the country.

  

Since then, there has been a sharp increase in clashes between the rebels and Turkish government troops.