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Iraq: Tensions Rise Over Turkish Troop Movements

(RFE/RL) June 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Tensions are rising on Turkey's border with Iraq.

The leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Mass'ud Barzani, said today that Turkish troops shelled an Iraqi border area on June 3. He said the shelling targeted Haji Umran, believed to be used by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to carry out attacks in Turkey.

The shelling cannot be independently confirmed and Turkish military did not comment on the strike. But in recent weeks, Turkey has publicly discussed the possibility of sending troops to confront the PKK in Iraq.

Turkish troops have shelled suspected rebel positions across the border in the past, but such military operations were more frequent before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The news about the shelling comes after both Iraqi and U.S. officials expressed concern over the Turkish moves on the Iraqi border.

U.S., Iraq Urge Restraint

On June 2, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged Ankara not to stage an incursion. Al-Maliki was speaking during a visit to Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq.

"The Iraqi federal government rejects that Iraq be used as a site to harm neighboring countries," he said. "Secondly, Iraqi territory must be respected, and we shall not allow it to become a scene of military operations. Just as we do not want to harm our neighbors, we don't want them to interfere in Iraqi lands."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a trip to Asia, urged Turkey on June 3 not to undertake "unilateral military action."

Gates told reporters in Singapore that Turkey has a "genuine concern" about Kurdish terrorism on Turkish territory, but he said the United States opposes any unilateral action by Turkey across the border into Iraq.

Both Turkey and the United States are NATO members.

Turkish Elections Looming

Meanwhile, some regional analysts say the situation is not likely to lead to confrontation.

"I think that these moves -- these threats and raising the level of tension by the Turkish military establishment -- have only one goal, namely to [increase] domestic pressure on the government and on the [ruling] Justice and Development Party and to make it look weak and isolated in politics," Muhammad Nureddine, a Beirut-based expert on Turkish affairs, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on June 3. "In fact, the government does not want such an operation and has not given a green light for it. Accordingly, I think that military intervention in north Iraq is unlikely."

Turkish general elections are scheduled for July 22.

(RFE/RL Radio Free Iraq correspondent Nabil Ahmed contributed to this report)

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