Turkey withdraws from northern Iraq, PKK claims victory

Updated: 2008-03-01 07:29

Turkey pulled its troops out of northern Iraq on Friday, ending a major offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels that some feared could spread conflict through the region.

A statement by Turkey's armed forces denied any foreign influence on the decision, which came a day after US President George W. Bush urged a swift end to offensive.

"There was no question of completely liquidating the terrorist organization, but Turkey has shown the organization that northern Iraq is not a safe haven for them," the General Staff said.

Turkey sent thousands of soldiers into remote, mountainous northern Iraq on Feb 21 to crush rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who use the region as a base for attacks on Turkish territory.

"It was determined that the aims set at the start of the operation had been achieved," the statement said. "Our units returned to their bases (in Turkey) on the morning of Feb 29."

 

An undated handout picture provided by the Turkey's army headquarters on Thursday, shows Turkish soldiers during an operation against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq. Reuters

Announcing the withdrawal ahead of the General Staff, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said in Baghdad that his government welcomed the move.

Turkey's political and military leaders had pledged the operation would continue for as long as necessary but US defense secretary Robert Gates, on a brief trip to Ankara on Thursday, urged a short and carefully targeted campaign.

Washington, like Ankara and the EU, brands the PKK a terrorist organization, and has been supplying intelligence to the Turkish military on the PKK in Iraq.

Turkey's military said it had killed 240 rebels in the eight-day ground offensive and suffered the loss of 27 soldiers. The PKK said it has killed more than 130 Turkish troops but only five rebels had died. It was not possible to verify the figures.

Turkey had said the ground operation, backed by warplanes, tanks, long-range artillery and attack helicopters, would continue until PKK bases were erased and the rebels no longer posed a threat to Turkey.

The withdrawal without apparently rooting out all PKK bases, especially in the Qandil mountains, will raise questions about whether the rebel movement has been fatally wounded.

Turkish leaders have been under domestic pressure to crack down on the estimated 3,000 PKK members who stage deadly cross-border attacks against Turkish targets.

The PKK in northern Iraq claimed victory over the Turkish military.

"Because of the fierce battles between the PKK and the Turkish forces, the Turkish forces have withdrawn," said Ahmed Danees, the PKK's foreign relations spokesman in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurds, long suspicious of neighboring Turkey, fear it is seeking to undermine the autonomy of Iraq's oil-rich Kurdistan region. Ankara says it wants only to end terrorism.

The PKK has been fighting for decades for ethnic rights and self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

But Turkish pressure has gradually squeezed it out of the country, forcing it to base itself in the mountains of northern Iraq that lie outside the control of the semi-autonomous northern Iraqi Kurdish administration.

Ankara blames the separatist PKK movement for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since 1984.

Agencies

(China Daily 03/01/2008 page11)