Turkey Sends Troops Into Iraq to Battle Kurdish Rebels

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BAGHDAD, Dec. 18 -- Several hundred Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Tuesday and engaged in clashes with Kurdish guerrillas, Turkish military officials said, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit to Iraq to tout security gains.

Rice encountered frustration among some Iraqi Kurdish leaders upset that the United States is allowing Turkish forces to operate inside Iraq. Turkey is combating the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which says it is fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey and uses northern Iraq as a base.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, a semiautonomous body that administers three predominantly Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq, refused to attend a meeting with Rice on Tuesday.

"The president justified his rejection in that the Iraqi sky is controlled by U.S. forces, and these forces allowed Turkish aircraft to breach Iraqi borders to bomb Kurdish villages and that caused casualties among the Kurdish citizens," said Fouad Hussein, an aide to Barzani, referring to Turkish airstrikes Sunday.

After a stop in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, about 120 miles south of where Turkish troops launched their incursion, Rice told reporters in Baghdad that the United States, Turkey and Iraq have a common interest in "stopping the activities of the PKK" but cautioned that "no one should do anything that threatens to destabilize the north." The group is accused of killing more than 50 Turkish security personnel and civilians in recent months in cross-border raids.

Rice's visit was designed to highlight the overall reduction in Iraq's violence following an increase in U.S. forces this year, as well as to push for political reconciliation. But that message was largely overshadowed by the Turkish incursion in a region considered to be Iraq's most stable.

Standing at Rice's side, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, said the Turkish attack was a "limited incursion" taking place "high in the mountains." Officials said the Turkish troops withdrew by the end of Tuesday.

"We believe any unilateral actions to destabilize the situation will harm Iraq's interests and Turkish interests at the same time," Zebari said. "At the same time, we fully understand the legitimate concern Turkey has over the PKK terrorist activities against them," he added, calling the PKK presence in northern Iraq "unacceptable." Both countries have large Kurdish minorities.

In a statement on its Web site, the Turkish military said ground forces based close to the border crossed "a few kilometers" into northern Iraq after spotting a group of guerrillas trying to infiltrate Turkey overnight, according to the Associated Press.

"A heavy blow was inflicted on the group with the land forces stationed in the area," the statement said.

In Washington, Pentagon officials said Monday that the United States is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence to help pinpoint PKK targets in the mountains of northern Iraq, where the group has an estimated 3,000 guerrillas.

Sunday's attacks, Iraqi officials said, killed one woman, while the PKK reported the deaths of two civilians and five fighters.

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