Turkey pursues Iraq offensive

Turkish military and Kurdish separatists make conflicting claims about casualties.

     The Turkish army said it would return its troops 'in the shortest time possible' [AFP]

    Conflicting claims


    The Turkish army claims to have killed 24 fighters of the PKK, which says it wants Kurdish self-rule in southern Turkey.


    But a spokesman for the PKK told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that 22 Turkish soldiers had been killed.


    In video

    Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee on the Turkish offensive into Iraq

    "After clashes yesterday between the PKK and the Turkish forces, 22 Turkish soldiers were killed. Not more than five PKK soldiers were wounded," Ahmed Danees, head of foreign relations for the PKK, said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.


    "Turkish forces used helicopters to evacuate the wounded."


    The mission against the PKK is being conducted in heavy snow, leading some military analysts to suggest that Turkey hopes to use the surprise element of a winter onslaught to wrongfoot the separatists.


    Baghdad's reaction


    Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government's spokesman, said: "We know the threats that Turkey is facing but military operations will not solve the PKK problem.


    "Turkey has resorted to military options, but this never resulted in a good thing."


    The Kurds

    - The Kurds
    - The PKK 

    - Dreams of independence
    - Turkey's lonely Kurdish villages

    Al-Dabbagh acknowledged that Turkey was "suffering from the terrorist PKK organisation".

    He said Turkish commanders had assured Iraq that the "operation will be a limited one and it will not violate certain standards that they have set".


    Iraq's president and prime minister had spoken to Turkish officials, al-Dabbagh said.


    A spokesman for Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said on Thursday that he had telephoned Reccip Tayyib Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, urging him to respect Iraq's sovereignty.


    The ground operation started after Turkish fighter jets and artillery bombed suspected PKK targets on Thursday, the Turkish military said on its website.


    Several bridges were destroyed.


    International reactions


    In New York, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said on Friday that he was "concerned" by the escalating tension and called for restraint.


    A similar warning came from the US, which has been supplying Turkey with intelligence on PKK movements and which said it had been told of the incursion beforehand. 

    Troops continue to be deployed in Kurdish
    majority areas of southern Turkey [AFP]

    Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said: "We were notified and we urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK, to limit the scope and duration of their operations." 


    In Brussels, the European Commission asked Turkey to "refrain from any disproportionate military action" and Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said Turkey's action was "not the best response".


    Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, said: "I think Turkey sees a window of opportunity."


    'Knock-on effects'


    Lee said: "It could it be that the Americans think the security situation in Iraq has stabilised very slightly and perhaps if there is fighting in the north it will not have any knock-on effects for the rest of the country.


    "It could be that the Americans are now suddenly taking a longer-term view and have decided that if they want to launch a military operation, then they need Turkey to help them with that.


    "But it is extraordinary that the only people that have come out against this is the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq and that everybody else seems to have suddenly accepted that it is okay to do."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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