Dubai: For the second time in less than a week, Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq pursuing Kurdish rebels in an action that drew harsh criticism from the Iraqi government, but was defended by Ankara and Washington.
The increasing tension along the Iraqi-Turkish border is poised to expand and affect not only Turkish-Iraqi relations but also Iraqi-Kurdish-American ties. According to Turkish military officers, about 300 Turkish troops crossed the Iraqi border after "two PKK groups were spotted just across the border and it was determined that they were planning attacks and a battalion of soldiers intervened," a Turkish military official said.
However, Iraqi officials denied there had been clashes and said the Turkish troops entered an unpopulated area near the border. It was the second incursion in less than a week.
Last Sunday, Turkish warplanes bombed several villages inside Iraq targeting what Ankara said were rear-bases of the rebels.
Ankara defended its move and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters yesterday" "Our army is doing whatever is necessary. Our security forces will continue to do whatever is necessary."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who paid a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday, also announced that "no one should do anything that threatens to destabilise northern Iraq".
While Iraqi officials described the Turkish move as "unacceptable", Fouad Hussain, head of the office of Kurdistan's regional presidency, said: "We condemn this incursion. Turkey wants to transfer the problem onto the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters in Baghdad soon after the incursion: "We believe any unilateral actions to destabilise the situation will harm Iraq's interests ... But at the same time we fully understand the legitimate concern Turkey has over the PKK terrorist activities."
- With additional inputs from Agencies