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Turkey Says No Need For Buffer Zone Inside Iraq

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey has no current need to set up a buffer zone in northern Iraq to halt crossborder raids by Kurdish guerrillas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said in response to opposition calls for such a move.

His comments follow a warning from a senior Iraqi Kurdish official against Turkey stationing troops inside Iraq, saying it would not stop attacks by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels.

Turkey's parliament last week approved a government request to give the military the green light to carry out operations against PKK bases in northern Iraq for another year, days after a cross-border attack killed 17 soldiers.

"At the moment there is no need for a buffer zone. Whatever is necessary is being done," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara when asked about the opposition calls.

He said 167 military installations would be established by the end of 2009 at a cost of $180 million to $210 million as part of efforts to tighten up security in the region.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry delegation is scheduled to meet Iraq leaders in Baghdad on October 14 amid strained ties between Iraq and Turkey, which accuses its neighbor of not doing enough to combat the separatists.

Turkish opposition nationalist parties and retired generals have been floating the idea of setting up a buffer zone for at least two years, but have stepped up calls since the latest attacks.

NATO member Turkey has staged almost daily air strikes against suspected PKK bases in Iraq since the ambush in Hakkari at the start of the month, the worst single attack on the military in more than a year.

A similar attack on a border post last year led Turkey to launch a brief large-scale land operation in Iraq. Washington and Brussels are worried prolonged Turkish operations in northern Iraq would hurt the region.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, as well as Turkey, launched its armed campaign for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.