ON THE TURKEY-IRAQ BORDER (Reuter)–Turkish troops pushed deep into northern Iraq Thursday–the ninth day of a drive against Kurds–a mission Baghdad dismissed as a pointless pursuit of "ghosts."
Turkish officials and Iraqi Kurds confirmed the Turkish army was digging in after nine days in the field.
Kurds attacked an oil installation in southeast Turkey–killing one soldier and causing light damage–oil company officials said Thursday.
"A group of Kurdistan Workers Party members attempted last night to attack the Bati Raman oil installation owned by the state-owned TPAO oil company," a company official in Batman province told Reuters by telephone.
He said one soldier died and parts of an oil pipeline were damaged by gun fire in a clash between the rebels and security forces guarding the site on Wednesday night.
There were no reports of casualties among the guerrillas–who fled the scene–he said.
"The cleaning up has finished–settling in has begun," a Turkish officer on the Iraqi border told Reuters.
Iraqi Kurdish officials said Turkish troops had pushed 125 miles into northern Iraq–much further than past incursions.
"Turkish soldiers have set up a checkpoint near the town of Aqra which is 200 km by road from the Turkish border," a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official in the Turkish town of Diyarbakir told Reuters. Aqra is 60 miles east of the provincial capital Dohuk.
Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency said troops were destroying Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps near Iraq’s eastern border with Iran and had begun to "take precautions" along the 36th parallel near Baghdad-controlled territory and Syria’s borders with Iraq. It gave no details.
Anatolian said commandos combed the Hayirsiz mountains–close to Syria–destroying PKK hideouts. F-4 jets and Cobra helicopters bombed the mountains on Wednesday–the agency said.
The pro-PKK DEM agency said that Turkish soldiers were setting up bases inside Iraq and preparing for a long stay. "Turkish officials have told us they will stay in northern Iraq for as long as it takes… we do not know how long that will be," KDP Ankara spokesman–Faik Nerweyi told Reuters.
The Iraq operation has been carried out under a strict news blackout–making independent confirmation impossible.
More than 10,000 Turkish troops–allied with the KDP–poured into northern Iraq last week in pursuit of PKK rebels who use northern Iraq as a base to launch raids into southeast Turkey.
DEM agency and pro-PKK MED TV said that the PKK staged two suicide bombings in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil Monday in the wake of a KDP effort to eject PKK forces from the town over the weekend. They said 28 people were killed in the attacks.
A KDP spokesman in London said he had spoken to their office in Arbil and that there had been "no such thing."
In Geneva–some 200 Kurdish demonstrators–stormed the United Nations’ European headquarters–occupying the building for five hours and demanding international action to halt Turkey’s offensive into northern Iraq.
The Turkish army says it has killed 1,146 PKK members during the incursion. PKK sources say the figures are exaggerated. Washington–whose criticism of the operation has been the most muted of Turkey’s allies–did not rule out civilian deaths: "I certainly can’t exclude the possibility–unfortunately–that civilians may have been killed," U.S. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns told a news briefing on Wednesday.
Baghdad declared the operation a failure. "The Turkish troops were chasing in remote villages and rugged mountains ghosts rather than human beings–killing indiscriminately and misleading themselves into believing that they were killing their foes," said the al-Thawra newspaper–organ of Iraq’s ruling Baath party.
Turkey mounted a six-week–35,000-man operation into the Kurdish-held northern Iraqi regions two years ago but failed to achieve its stated aim of clearing the area of PKK.
Kurdish areas of northern Iraq were placed outside Baghdad’s control by the Western alliance after the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait. Turkey says this allows the separatist PKK to flourish and launch attacks on Turkish targets