Turkey has massed 140,000
soldiers on its border with northern Iraq, Iraq's foreign minister said Monday,
calling the neighboring country's fears of Kurdish rebels based there
"legitimate" but better resolved through negotiation.
Turkish army commandos are seen at
the Egirdir Commando Training Center in the southern city of Isparta, in
Turkey, Wednesday, June 27, 2007. Turkey's Chief of Staff Gen Yasar
Buyukanit asked government to set political guidelines for an incursion
into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish guerrillas targeting Turkey.
The Turkish military had no comment to the remarks by Foreign Minister
Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd from northern Iraq, and it was unclear where he got the
figures. If they are accurate, Turkey would have nearly as many soldiers along
its border with Iraq as the 155,000 troops which the U.S. has in the country.
Zebari's comments came amid calls by Turkey's military for the government to
give it the green light to carry out military operations in northern Iraqi
against the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
"Turkey is building up forces on the border. There are 140,000 soldiers fully
armed on the border. We are against any military interference or violation of
Iraqi sovereignty," Zebari said in Baghdad.
Turkey has been pressuring the United States and Iraq to eliminate PKK bases
in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq and has said it will carry out a
cross-border offensive if necessary.
"Turkey's fears are legitimate but such things can be discussed," Zebari
said. ""The perfect solution is the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the
He added: "No one wants a new military conflict in the region."
He said there had been no "Turkey military violation until now," citing
artillery shelling and Turkish surveillance overflights.
Pentagon officials said they could not immediately confirm the report from
Zebari, and repeated the hope that Turkey would not launch an incursion into
"We've been working with them and recognize that problem that exists there.
But we're also encouraging them that an incursion into Iraq is not the way to
solve this," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters
Turkey has long complained of U.S. inaction against separatist rebels, who
have escalated attacks inside Turkey in recent months. Last week, Turkey's
military chief asked the government to set political guidelines for an incursion
into northern Iraq.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Friday confirmed that detailed
incursion plans were ready.
Zebari said that his government cannot send its troops to secure the border
with Turkey at a time when U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting a deadly
insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
"Our military forces are over-occupied with securing the streets and we do
not have forces enough to open a new front. We do not want any conflict.
However, no military violation has taken place till now," Zebari said.
Turkey has been battling separatist Kurdish rebels since 1984 in a conflict
that has killed tens of thousands of people. There has been a recent surge in
rebel attacks, and 67 soldiers have been killed this year. More than 110 rebels
were killed in the same period, according to the Turkish military.
Zebari said the best way is to address Turkey's "legitimate security
concerns" and revive the security and military commission which is made up of
the united states, Iraq and Turkey.