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Turkish army sends soldiers into Iraq

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071218/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq Turkish army sends soldiers into Iraq By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 21 minutes ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2007
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071218/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

      Turkish army sends soldiers into Iraq

      By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 21
      minutes ago

      KIRKUK, Iraq - The Turkish army sent soldiers about
      1.5 miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation
      on Tuesday, Kurdish officials said. A Turkish official
      said the troops seeking Kurdish rebels were still in
      Iraq by midmorning.

      Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an
      unannounced visit to Kirkuk, the hub of Iraq's
      northern oil fields.

      The troops crossed into an area near the border with
      Iran, about 75 miles north of the city of Irbil, said
      Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga
      security forces.

      About 300 Turkish troops crossed the border at 3 a.m.,
      said Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the regional
      Kurdistan government. He said the region was a
      deserted mountainous frontier area.

      The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment on
      reports of the Turkish operation.

      The Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, has battled for
      autonomy for southeastern Turkey for more than two
      decades and uses strongholds in northern Iraq for
      cross-border strikes.

      It was not clear how long the Turkish soldiers who
      entered Iraq on Tuesday would stay, but a Turkish
      government official said they were sent as
      "reinforcements" to existing Turkish troops stationed
      further inside Iraq.

      "They are going there as reinforcements, they are not
      returning," the official said on condition of
      anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the
      media.

      About 1,200 Turkish military monitors have operated in
      northern Iraq since 1996 with permission from local
      authorities. A tank battalion has been stationed at a
      former airport at the border town of Bamerni and a few
      other military outposts were scattered in the region.
      Ankara rotates the troops there.

      Asked about a reported clash between the Turkish
      troops and Kurdish rebels inside Iraq, Turkey's
      President Abdullah Gul said: "From now on, whatever is
      necessary in the struggle against terrorism, it is
      being done."

      Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the
      incursion "is not acceptable and will lead to
      complicated problems."

      "Iraq understands the threat the PKK represents, one
      that endangers Turkish security," al-Dabbagh said.
      "But Iraq rejects any Turkish interference in Iraq."

      Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government was given no
      warning about the incursion.

      Abdullah, the spokesman for the regional Kurdish
      government, also criticized the operation and
      cautioned that Turkish forces should "be careful not
      to harm civilians" who might be living in the area.

      "If the Turkish military conducts limited operations
      against the rebels, this is a problem of their
      concern," he said. "But if this ... leads to harm for
      civilians, we will absolutely be against that and
      reject that."

      On Sunday, Turkey conducted airstrikes against rebels
      from the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern
      Iraq. As many as 50 fighter jets were involved in the
      attack, the biggest against the PKK in years.

      An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several
      villages, killing one woman. The rebels said two
      civilians and five rebels died.

      The Iraqi parliament on Monday condemned the bombing,
      calling it an "outrageous" violation of Iraq's
      sovereignty. Turkey said Sunday's attack used U.S.
      intelligence and was carried out with tacit American
      approval.

      Washington is trying to balance support for two key
      allies: the Turkish government and the Iraqi Kurds.
      Despite their apparent support for a limited raid, the
      U.S. remains firmly opposed to any major Turkish
      military operation into northern Iraq — which could
      disrupt one of the calmest areas of Iraq and run the
      risk of destabilizing the entire region.

      Meanwhile, Rice was meeting members of a
      civilian-military reconstruction unit based in Kirkuk
      and provincial politicians. She was to meet Iraq's
      central leadership later in Baghdad.

      Sunni Arabs ended a yearlong political boycott earlier
      this month in Kirkuk — the hub of Iraq's northern oil
      fields — under a deal that sets aside government posts
      for Arabs. It was the biggest step yet toward unity
      before a referendum on the area's future.

      Kirkuk is an especially coveted city for both the
      Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad and the
      Kurdish one in Irbil. Kurds want to incorporate it
      into their self-rule area, but the idea has met stiff
      resistance from Arabs and a constitutionally required
      referendum on the issue was delayed to next year.

      Much of Iraq's vast oil wealth lies under the ground
      in the region, as well as in the Shiite-controlled
      south. Kurds control of the area's oil resources and
      its cultural attachment to Kurdistan have been hotly
      contested.

      In an unrelated overnight raid, about 250 Iraqi police
      raided three villages near Hawija, about 30 miles
      southwest of Kirkuk, in an operation against suspected
      al-Qaida in Iraq militants, said provincial police
      chief Brig. Sarhat Qadir.

      In a six-hour raid that began at 1 a.m., police
      detained 12 al-Qaida in Iraq suspects as well as
      another eight people, and seized a large weapons cache
      that included 2,500 mortar rounds, 350 Katyusha
      rockets, about 150 improvised bombs and about 500
      mines, Qadir said.

      Meanwhile, a car bomb targeting a police patrol
      exploded in central Baghdad Tuesday afternoon. Two
      policeman were killed, as were two civilians, police
      said. Eight other people were wounded.

      ___

      Associated Press Writer Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad
      contributed to this report.
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