DIYARBAKIR (Reuter)–Turkish troops on Thursday occupied strategic points and moved further into northern Iraq in a cross-border deployment against Kurdish rebels that has drawn the anger of Baghdad.
Turkish security officials said soldiers backed by a Turkish Kurd militia had taken up positions near the village of Fishkhabur to prevent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) infiltration from across the Tigris River in Syria.
Some 80 Turkish armored cars were in place around the nearby Iraqi border town of Zakho–Turkey’s NTV television channel said.
A spokesman for the Iraqi opposition group–the Iraqi National Congress quoting contacts in the region said Turkish armored vehicles were moving from Zakho towards Amediye 43 miles to the east.
The spokesman’said there were clashes in the town of Sheran’sh–northeast of Zakho–on Thursday morning with artillery shelling mountains nearby. Turkish troops were also seen in Akra on Thursday–37 miles from the border into Iraq.
Turkish security officials said the latest incursion was an attempt to reverse advances by the PKK in recent fighting with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)–an Iraqi Kurdish militia allied to Ankara and led by Massoud Barzani.
"We were informed that the terror organization was building up near the border to spend winter there and was attempting to put pressure on the KDP," foreign ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli told a news briefing.
Baghdad slammed the Turkish incursion of some 15,000 soldiers backed by armored units–aircraft and strike helicopters that began earlier this week.
"The Republic of Iraq strongly condemns the new Turkish military aggression which represents a flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," an Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the ruling Baath party newspaper al-Thawra.
‘Iraq completely rejects excuses given by the Turkish government for its operations in northern Iraq," the Iraqi spokesman’said. He said Iraq …"asked the Turkish government to withdraw its invading forces from inside Iraqi territory and desist from such practices…"
Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz sent letters to the Arab League Secretary-General–head of the Islamic Conference Organization and head of the Non-Aligned Movement informing them of the Turkish incursion.
"We hope that the Arab League–the Islamic Conference Organization and the Non-Aligned Movement will shoulder their responsibilities and ask the Turkish government to withdraw its troops immediately and desist from violating Iraq’s territory and sovereignty," Aziz was quoted by the Iraqi News Agency as saying in his letter.
"The Iraqi government preserves its legitimate right under international law to respond to such acts and deman’s compensation for the damage inflicted as a result of these Turkish incursions," he added.
The operation is Turkey’s second major push into Iraq this year to flush out the PKK–which uses the mountainous region in its fight for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey.
In May–some 10,000 Turkish troops poured into northern Iraq in pursuit of the PKK. The push was condemned by Baghdad and much of the rest of the Arab world.
Northern Iraq is nominally under the control of Iraqi Kurdish groups who broke from Baghdad after the 1991 Gulf War under the protection of a Western air force based in Turkey.
"According to information received at Barzani’s headquarters–the PKK was going to attack Zakho so as to win prestige," the NTV television station said.
It said the Turkish Kurd group had now re-established itself in areas it had fled in fighting with Turkish troops four months ago.
"The PKK has been splitting into small groups of around 20 to 30 people and has been giving us trouble by attacking roads and villages… Turkey has the ability with its helicopters to reach any area it wants to attack the PKK–which we cannot," said KDP Ankara spokesman–Faik Nerweyi.