PKK "stops" Turkish military advance

Türkiye Materials 26 February 2008 14:23 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said Tuesday it has stopped Turkish troops from further advancing into northern Iraq and admitted four of its fighters have been killed in overnight clashes.

"Fighting continues for the sixth day in several areas, mainly Afashin, Alzab and Bazya, where we were able to fend off Turkish attacks and stop troops from making any further incursions," senior PKK member, Roz Walat, told the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency.

Turkish casualties reached 80 as some soldiers froze to death with heavy snowfall in the area while four PKK fighters were killed and several others wounded in Monday's fighting, according to Walat.

Turkish commandos had parachuted into the Qandil region near Iraq's border with Iran and had taken control of roads and passes in the region, Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper reported. Other troops had reached around 25 kilometres inside mountainous northern Iraq.

Some 41 PKK fighters were killed in fighting on Sunday night and Monday, according to a statement released by the Turkish General Staff Monday afternoon, bringing the total number of PKK dead since the operation began on Thursday night to 153.

Two Turkish soldiers were killed on Monday, the statement said, bringing the Turkish death toll to 17.

A senior PKK member accused Turkey of seeking to make political gains from its military action in northern Iraq.

"The Turkish army is trying to create an area under its control in Iraq. The aim is to target PKK but it also has political objectives, mainly in Kirkuk," Mazkin Almid told VOI.

Turkey seeks a foothold in the area to be able to influence developments in Kirkuk, she said.

There is a dispute among ethnic communities in Iraq's oil-rich Kirkuk, pitting Kurds against Arabs and Turkomen, over whether the region should be part of Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region.

Kirkuk's Turkmen minority has strong cultural, ethnic and historic ties with Turkey.

Separately, Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, urged Turkey to immediately pull out its troops from northern Iraq.

"What Turkish troops have done is a flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and a dangerous threat to security in the entire region," al-Mashhadani said in a statement.

Turkey launched "Operation Gunes" on Thursday night, sending as many as 10,000 troops into Iraq with the aim of destroying the PKK's ability to use northern Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks on Turkey. The Turkish military estimates there are between 4,000 to 5,000 PKK guerrillas based in the region.

Turkey blames the separatist group for the deaths of more than 32,000 since the early 1980s when the PKK began its fight for independence or autonomy for the mainly Kurdish-populated south-east of Turkey.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.