Kurdish anger over the incursion is growing [AFP]


The Iraqi government has condemned Turkey's incursion into the Kurdish north of the country.

A statement from the government on Tuesday said that the move was a violation of Iraq's sovereignty and demanded an immediate cessation of fighting.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, delivered the statement which said: "The cabinet in a meeting today expressed its rejection and condemnation of the Turkish military incursion which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

"The cabinet stresses that unilateral military action is not acceptable and threatens good relations between the two neighbours."

Turkey has continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq for a sixth day with conflicting reports of rising casualties from both sides.

The government in Ankara has revealed few details about its cross-border operations, but Kurdish communities in the Turkish town of Diyabakir have voiced their opposition

Turkish troops were engaged in fierce clashes with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq as they closed in on one of the group's main bases, security sources said on Tuesday.

Sustained fighting

Members of the Kurdish security force in the autonomous north of Iraq told the AFP news agency that sustained fighting had continued since Sunday as troops, backed by artillery and air cover, fought to seize a PKK camp in the Zap area.

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The camp, situated in a deep valley 6km from the Turkish border, is allegedly one of the main passages used by PKK fighters to infiltrate Turkish territory and launch attacks.

The Turkish army said on Monday that it had killed 153 PKK rebels and lost 17 soldiers since the beginning of the incursion on Thursday.

Ankara says an estimated 4,000 PKK rebels are holed up in northern Iraq using the region as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory as part of their campaign for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast of the country.

Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, in Ankara, said that he spoke to a senior member of Turkey's parliament who said that the Iraqi statement is unlikely to change Turkey's position.

Lee said Ankara believed the statement was for domestic Iraqi consumption and that they are upholding the legitimacy of the offensive on self-defence grounds.

Death toll rejected

The PKK had rejected the army's death toll and says it has killed 81 soldiers.

Large protests in support of the PKK turned violent in the town of Diyabakir on Monday as protesters clashed with police.

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid said the situation in the town was tense and that reports of similar small clashes in other Turkish towns reflected the growing frustration of Turkey's Kurdish minority.

She said that there was also growing anger on the Turkish side as the number of coffins of soldiers returning home continued to mount.

There are fears for increased instability as local Peshmerga forces could engage Turkish troops.

However, James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the town of Zakho in northern Iraq, said that for this to happen Kurdish ministers and generals would have to order the local forces to start fighting.

"The one thing they [the ministers and generals] want to avoid would be to destabilise this area - by far the most stable area of Iraq in the last five years.

"If they took on the Turks that would be a last ditch effort, and something they would not want to do because it would further escalate the conflict."

Limited information

The White House at the weekend said it hoped the Turkish incursion would be short-lived and would avoid harming civilians.

There has been limited information on
Turkish military maneouvres [EPA]

Bays said that it was difficult to determine how successful Turkey's efforts to flush out PKK fighters had been so far.

The Turkish army has only released one communiqué a day and journalists have largely been kept far from the fighting in the mountainous terrain making it difficult to gather information.

Bays said there was a mixture of fear and frustration among Iraqi villagers near the border with Turkey.

The conflict in the area has claimed more than 37,000 lives since the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms in 1984.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies