Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Conflict: Concern that Turkey's attacks in Iraq may lead to a clash with Iraq's Kurdish security forces

Turkey's military said they have killed 41 Kurdish rebels Monday for a total 253 rebels and 16 Turkish soldiers killed during fighting in northern Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraq's national security adviser has expressed concern that Turkey's attacks in Iraq may lead to a clash with Iraq's Kurdish security forces. Daniel Shearf reports from Irbil.

A statement on Turkey's military website says the rebels were killed during the fourth day of clashes as Turkish artillery pounded suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts inside Iraq.

The Kurdish rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, say their losses are much lower, though none of the figures can be independently verified.

Tensions are growing over Turkey's raid into Iraqi Kurdistan to root out the PKK.

Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq Al-Rubaie said Monday the longer the Turkish military stays in Iraq the more likely they are to clash with Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi Kurdistan's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani confirmed that Kurdish elite security called Pashmirga last week forced a group of Turkish soldiers to return to their base.

He says the Kurdish people are never in favor of war or making war with anyone, but if targeted or attacked, he says, they will defend themselves.

Turkish tanks and hundreds, perhaps thousands of soldiers, crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan after heavy shelling targeted at the PKK in Iraq. Iraqi leaders have condemned the destruction of civilian infrastructure from Turkey's assault and called on Turkish forces to withdraw and for dialogue to resolve the conflict.

On Monday several hundred students in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, protested the Turkish raid. Demonstrators at the university of Kurdistan Hawler held up a banner asking, "where is the international community."

Namo Abdullah is the organizer of the student protest. "We want to pressure the E.U. to pressure on the U.S. Actually the U.S. is also guilty as much as Turkey, because the U.S. legitimizes Turkey, US allows Turkey to intervene in Iraqi territory," he said.

Many countries, including the United States have designated the PKK a terrorist organization and support Turkey's right to defend itself, but they are also concerned the conflict may destabilize northern Iraq, and urged Turkey to respect the Iraq sovereignty and finish the operation as soon as possible.

By Daniel Schearf Irbil, Iraq, 26 February 2008
Published with the permission of Voice of America