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Iraq: Turkey Ends Incursion Against PKK

Turkish soldiers pulling out of Iraq at Hakkari (epa) The weeklong ground offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels has ended with the withdrawal of Turkish troops.

The Turkish General Staff said the operation had achieved its objectives, but that Turkey would continue to "closely watch" Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) activities in the region.

It was a quick end to an incursion that Iraq and the United States had feared could fuel regional instability.

On February 21, Ankara poured thousands of troops over the border into northern Iraq. Their mission -- to root out Kurdish separatist rebels based there who have been fighting for decades for self-rule in Turkey's Kurdish southeast.

Then came reports that the troops were going home. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was one of the first to confirm that, telling RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq: "We have received reliable reports that the Turkish forces have started to withdraw from Iraqi territory at about 4 a.m., moving toward Turkey's border. This withdrawal involves all the forces that went into Iraqi territory over the past week."

Within hours that was confirmed by Turkey's military. In a statement, the General Staff said at least 240 PKK militants were killed in the course of the incursion, along with 27 of its troops.

The military also said foreign influence had played no role in the decision to withdraw. But it came after repeated calls from Washington to keep the incursion short.

The United States had expressed understanding for Turkey's position. Washington, like Ankara and the European Union, lists the PKK as a terrorist organization, and it had helped Ankara by sharing intelligence on PKK movements.

But it had also been concerned that a prolonged offensive could jeopardize security in Iraq.

Most recently, on February 28, the call for a swift exit came from President George W. Bush, who said the incursion "must be temporary in nature." Bush said the Turkish military needed to "move quickly, achieve their objective, and get out."

Now they are out, but Turkey says it will continue to monitor PKK activities in northern Iraq.

It's unclear how wounded the organization is.

Turkey's military said there was no question of "completely liquidating" the PKK during the incursion. But it said the organization was shown that northern Iraq was "not a safe haven for them."

(compiled from agency reports)

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