BAGHDAD (CNN)–Turkey’s armed forces stepped up their offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Iraq on Wednesday amid rising diplomatic tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.
Defying Iraqi and U.S. calls for Turkey to wind up the six-day operation, a top Turkish diplomat said there was no "timetable" for the incursion following talks in Baghdad with Iraqi counterparts.
Hundreds of commandos were gathering in the border town of Cukurca, ferried there in more than 40 military trucks. Dozens more soldiers were being brought to a base on the outskirts of the town by helicopter, The Associated Press reported. Turkish air force F-16 fighter jets were also spotted flying over the town towards Iraq.
In Baghdad, Ahmet Davutogulu, chief foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the campaign was targeted solely against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) responsible for cross-border attacks against Turkish targets.
"The objective is the elimination of the PKK terrorism," Davutogulu said, addressing a press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Turkey’s actions have drawn condemnation from the Iraqi government and prompted concern from the United States.
Davutogulu said the incursion, which has resulted in dozens of Kurdish deaths, was not meant to violate Iraqi sovereignty.
"I brought this message that the aim of our counterterror operation is clear and limited. There is no other agenda. There is no other target," Davutoglu said.
He underscored the fact that "no country can tolerate the presence of the terrorist groups next to our territories attacking civilians."
"I am glad to say that the Iraqi government showed its clear cooperation during our counter terrorist activities."
Zebari said talks with Davutogulu had been "frank and serious."
He said Iraq condemned the action and wanted Turkey’s troops to leave "as soon as possible." But he said Iraqi officials had expressed their "willingness" to work with Turkey over the issue of PKK terrorism.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was due to visit the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Wednesday, has also called for Turkey to wrap up military operations as promptly as possible.
"We believe the operation should be of the shortest possible duration," said Phil Reeker–counselor for public affairs to the ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Reeker, speaking at a press conference in Baghdad, expressed the hope that dialogue between all of the countries will continue and that the PKK is the "enemy" of all parties involved.
Dozens of Kurds and five Turkish soldiers were killed overnight in northern Iraq during Turkey’s offensive against PKK members there, according to the Turkish military.
The Turkish military’s Web site said 77 Kurds five soldiers and three pro-Turkish village guards were killed Tuesday night.
The number of Kurds killed in the nearly week-long operation is 230. The death toll for Turkish soldiers stands at 24.
The incursion launched Thursday is the first significant Turkish ground offensive into Iraq since the 2003 overthrow of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although Turkey has been conducting periodic air strikes and shelling against PKK targets in recent months.
Hundreds of Kurds in Turkey’s southeastern Van region took the streets Tuesday to protest the cross-border operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The police used water cannons and tear gas to break up the protest. Five protests were injured, several arrested, EuroNews reported.
The United States, NATO ally Turkey and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization, and US officers have been sharing "intelligence and appropriate information" with their Turkish counterparts since the raids began.