N Iraq: Peshmerga will defend citizens if necessary

Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq said Wednesday that their forces would defend civilians if they were caught up in any fighting between Turkish troops and militants from the outlawed PKK in the area.

N Iraq: Peshmerga will defend citizens if necessary
On Tuesday, Turkey sent hundreds of troops across the border into the frigid mountains of northern Iraq, claiming it inflicted heavy losses on Turkish Kurd militants in the small-scale incursion and in air strikes two days earlier.

The offensive puts more pressure on Washington to mediate between Iraq and Turkey. In a sign of increasing tension, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 1,800 people fled their homes in parts of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan last weekend.

Iraqi officials have complained that Turkey's actions are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, although they also have said they recognize the threat posed by the PKK, or Kurdistan People's Party.

"We are not part of the military dispute between Turkey and the PKK," said Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga militia.

Yawar said that "if there are any violations by Turkish troops against any secure civilian villages, the Peshmerga will do their job to defend their citizens."

Tuesday's raid was the first confirmed Turkish ground operation targeting PKK bases inside Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, though about 1,200 Turkish military monitors have operated in northern Iraq since 1996 with permission from local authorities.

Tuesday's operation involving about 300 soldiers began about 3 a.m. and lasted 15 hours before the soldiers returned to Turkey, Iraqi Kurd officials said.

"Today's Turkish military operation was a limited one, and the troops withdrew from Iraqi territory," Yawar said.

The Turkish military issued a statement saying ground forces based close to the border crossed into northern Iraq after spotting a group of militants trying to infiltrate into Turkey overnight.

"A heavy blow was inflicted on the group with the land forces stationed in the area," it said.

The incursion came after Turkey launched airstrikes by as many as 50 Turkish fighter jets Sunday against PKK positions in northern Iraq. Iraqi officials claimed one civilian was killed.

The military said it was not able to give the number of militants who may have been killed during the airstrikes, but maintained that "many facilities harboring the PKK were hit."

It was unclear what role the U.S. played, if any, in Tuesday's ground operation.

Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Aralık 2007, 10:45
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