ISTANBUL, Turkey — Supported by air power, Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Friday in their first major ground incursion against Kurdish rebel bases in nearly a decade. But Turkey sought to avoid confrontation with U.S.-backed Iraq, saying the guerrillas were its only target.The offensive, which started late Thursday after aircraft and artillery blasted suspected rebel targets, marked a dramatic escalation in Turkey’s fight with the PKK rebel group even though Turkish officials described the operation as limited.
A military officer of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said on condition of anonymity that several hundred Turkish soldiers had crossed the border. The coalition has satellites as well as drones and other surveillance aircraft at its disposal.
Sky-Turk television said about 2,000 Turkish soldiers were in Iraq, operating against rebel camps about two miles in from the border. NTV television said a total of 10,000 soldiers were inside Iraq in an operation that had extended six miles past the frontier. The activity was reportedly occurring about 60 miles east of Cizre, a major city near the border with Iraq.
It was not possible to independently confirm the size or scope of the attack on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. CNN-Turk television, citing Turkish security officials, said the operation could last two weeks.
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.
……The PKK militants 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.
Turkey’s government has complained that Iraqi and U.S. authorities weren’t doing enough to stop guerrilla operations. The Turkish air force has been staging air raids on PKK forces in the north since December with the help of intelligence provided by the U.S., a NATO ally.
During the initial stage of major combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Turkey refused to allow us use of their ground and airspace for a simultaneous attack from the North. As a result, we were forced to exclusively use the southern avenues of approach, and it took us much longer to reach Baghdad. It’s hard for me to muster sympathy.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he called his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, on Thursday night to give him advance warning of the operation. Erdogan said he later briefed President Bush in a telephone call.
“The Turkish armed forces will return after they finish their job,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. “The goal of the operation and of operations that will be conducted is just, and only, PKK camps located in the north of Iraq.”
Confirming the advance notice, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the Bush administration was urging Turkey to show restraint.
“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 — and we urged them to work, directly, with Iraqis, including Kurdish government officials, on how best to address the threat,” Stanzel told reporters.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert with at the TEPAV research center in Ankara, said the operation was likely launched to hit at guerrillas before the traditional start of the fighting season in the spring.
“I think it is aimed to keep the PKK under pressure before the group starts entering Turkey,” he said on CNN-Turk television.
The operation was reportedly concentrated in the Hakurk region, south of the Turkish border town of Cukurca.
The Iraqi government isn’t too thrilled:
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.
Iran even got in on the action back in 2006:
The PKK is a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group formed in the 1970’s by Abdullah Ocalan, who received training in Syria. The PKK started using terrorism in 1984. Their goal is to create a separate Kurdish state from the Turkish Republic.
This shows how little control the Iraqi government has over their territory. This excursion has the dangerous possibility of escalating into an all-out war between the Turks and the Kurds and destabilizing northern Iraq.