- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey — Hundreds of Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq early yesterday to chase Kurdish guerrillas who attack Turkey from bases there, Turkish security officials said. One official said the troops had returned to their bases by the end of the day, but Turkey’s foreign minister denied they had entered Iraq.

The senior security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, characterized the raid as a “hot pursuit” that was limited in scope. They said it did not constitute the kind of large incursion that Turkish leaders have been discussing in recent weeks.

One official said several thousand troops went less than two miles inside Iraq and were still there in the late afternoon.

Another official, based in the border region, said 600 commandos entered Iraq and were backed up by several thousand troops along the border. He said the commandos raided Iraqi territory across from the Turkish border town of Cukurca before dawn after rebels opened fire from Iraqi soil on Turkish patrols.

The official said the commandos returned to their bases in Turkey later in the day.

All the officials are based in southeast Turkey, where the military has been battling separatist Kurdish rebels since they took up arms in 1984.

The officials stood by their statements despite denials from Turkish and Iraqi officials.

Turkey’s private NTV television quoted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as saying reports of a cross-border operation were false.

“There is no such thing, no entry to another country. If such a thing happens, then we would announce it,” Mr. Gul said. “We are in a war with terror. We will do whatever is necessary to fight terrorism.”

Several military officials at the Pentagon said they saw nothing yesterday that would confirm the reports of Turkish troops crossing the border into Iraq.

Although the United States has about 16,500 troops in northern Iraq, most of them are not right along the border. Many of those are training teams working with the Iraqi border patrols.

The White House said there has been “no new activity” in northern Iraq to justify the press reports. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said that U.S. officials in the region have confirmed that the activity is a continuation of Turkey’s years-long campaign against the Kurdish PKK guerrillas of Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Mr. Johndroe said Washington remains “concerned about the PKK and the use of Iraq as a safe haven.”

The last major Turkish incursion into northern Iraq was in 1997, when about 50,000 troops were sent to the region.

Turkey has been building up its military forces on the Iraqi border as political and military leaders debate whether to attack separatist rebels of the PKK. The rebels stage raids in southeast Turkey after crossing over from hide-outs in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the government has not seen any major operations along the border.

“There has been intermittent shelling, for instance, attacks, certain violations, minor violations on the border which we have documented and reported back to the Turkish side, but honestly we haven’t seen any major operations along the border,” Mr. Zebari said in a telephone interview.

“We are aware of this Turkish troops buildup on the border and the Iraqi government position has been that we will not accept or tolerate any military incursion into Iraqi territories,” he said.

In other developments in the Iraq war reported yesterday:

{bullet} Twin car bombings struck intersections near Baghdad’s most revered Shi’ite shrine in the Kazimiyah district, killing at least seven persons.

The nearly simultaneous blasts in the Kazimiyah district in northern Baghdad occurred dangerously close to the golden-domed mosque that holds the remains of the Imam Moussa Kadhim, one of the 12 major Shi’ite saints.

{bullet} The military announced that four more U.S. soldiers were killed. The deaths raised to at least 3,498 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

{bullet} A Sunni insurgent group said it has reached a cease-fire with al Qaeda in Iraq.

“This agreement is based on a cease-fire between the two parties that bans all armed acts and all other activities that could cause attrition,” Ibrahim al-Shimmari, spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, told Al Jazeera television.