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Iraq: Turkish Troops Near Border Spark Invasion Reports

Turkish armor moving near the Iraq border on May 31 (AFP) June 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Tensions remain high over Turkey's deployment of armor to its border region with Iraq. The build-up comes as PKK guerrillas have stepped up attacks in southeast Turkey and there is much speculation that Turkish troops will attack PKK bases in northern Iraq.

The Turkish military has strengthened its forces in southeastern Turkey with additional tanks and armored personnel carriers over the past weeks.

But so far, widespread speculation that the troops could cross into northern Iraq to strike PKK bases has not been borne out.

On June 6, the foreign ministers of both Iraq and Turkey denied reports of a cross-border raid.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said "there hasn't been any Turkish military incursion into Iraq territory."

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul said much the same.

"As far as I know the Turkish General Staff has issued a statement [on this issue]" Gul said. "There is no such thing. I would tell you if there was [such an incursion]. It needs a separate preparation period. But no one should forget that we are at war with terrorism. Therefore, we would do anything to eradicate the roots of terrorism. We will do anything to achieve a result on this issue."

The Turkish-Kurd PKK has been fighting a separatist campaign in Turkey since 1984. Some 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

In Washington, U.S. Army Brigadier General Perry Wiggins of the Pentagon's joint staff said, "We have no indications or no reports that the Turks have conducted a cross-border operation into Iraq."

PKK Bases In Iraq

The statements came after the AP reported on June 6 that several thousand Turkish troops had launched an offensive.

The PKK is reported to have several bases in northern Iraq, including in mountains along the Iraqi-Iranian border. There has been lively debate in Turkey for weeks over whether Turkish troops should strike them.

But Washington has warned that any incursion could destabilize Kurdish-administered northern Iraq. That area is one of the few stable regions in Iraq.

"We are 100 percent with [Turkey] in the fight against terrorism," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on June 6. "We work very closely with them in the fight against terrorism. And in our view, the PKK is a terrorist organization. All of that said, Turkey and Iraq are neighbors -- that's not going to change. And we don't think it is in the interest of either state that there would be a military incursion into Iraq."

Regional expert Michael Rubin, of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, told RFE/RL recently that Ankara is angry over both fighters and weapons coming across the border into southeastern Turkey.

"There are two problems here," Rubin said. "There is one issue whether PKK fighters are crossing the border and staging attacks in Turkey and returning. That probably isn't so much the problem. The second issue is whether there are explosives and other supplies being trans-shipped from Iraq into Turkey to support the operations. The bombs that are going off in Turkey aren't homemade bombs, made with fertilizer and so forth. Some of the weapons, which the Turks have discovered, are weapons, which were given to the Kurdish regional government. Somehow they got out of the hands of the peshmerga [Iraqi-Kurd soldiers] and into the hands of the PKK."

History Of Tensions

Turkey last sent forces into northern Iraq in 1997.

Tensions between Ankara and Kurdish-administered northern Iraq center not only on the PKK bases but also on Iraqi-Kurd claims on Kirkuk.

The oil rich Iraqi province of Kirkuk is home to multiple ethnic groups, including the Turkomans, a Turkic-speaking minority.

Turkey says inclusion of the province into the Kurdish-administered area would endanger the Turkomans, with whom Ankara feels a cultural and linguistic affinity.

Ankara also fears that an economically stronger Iraqi Kurdish region could seek independence from Iraq, fueling separatist feelings within Turkey's own ethnic-Kurdish minority.

The Turkish-Kurd PKK has been fighting a separatist campaign in Turkey since 1984. Some 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Iraq In Transition

Iraq In Transition

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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