- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government demanded for the first time that Turkey immediately withdraw from northern Iraq, warning yesterday it feared an ongoing incursion could lead to clashes with the official forces of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation would only end “once its goal has been reached.”

Turkish troops have seized seven rebel camps and have pushed more than 12 miles into Iraq, a Turkish government official and military official who are familiar with the incursion plans said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

Earlier Turkish media reports had put Turkish troops nine miles inside northern Iraq.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq in about a decade was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

“The Iraqi Cabinet has denounced the Turkish army’s incursion,” Mr. al-Dabbagh said after the government met to discuss the issue. “The Cabinet calls on Turkey to withdraw its troops immediately and stop the military intervention.”

Mr. al-Dabbagh warned that tensions could escalate if the Kurdish military forces, known as peshmerga. were drawn into the fight.

“We want good relations with Turkey and Turkey should understand that the situation is dangerous and could be made worse by any military mistake that could prompt clashes between the peshmerga and Turkish troops,” Mr. al-Dabbagh said.

In Washington, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida’ie, called the Turkish incursion a “very serious infringement of our territory and one we can never accept.”

“It will not help regional security and it will not solve Turkey’s problems,” the ambassador said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Turkish officials have highlighted what they say is U.S. backing for their action. The United States has been supplying “actionable intelligence” to Turkey’s military about Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK positions inside Iraq and top Bush administration officials were told in advance of the ground invasion last week.

Mr. Sumaida’ie said, “We do not wait for the U.S. government to tell us our position on a matter of our national sovereignty.”

The ambassador said U.S. officials are well aware of Baghdad’s strong objections to the Turkish military move.

“They know our position,” he said. “I have raised it at every possible encounter.”

Turkey has assured the Iraqi government and the U.S. military that the operation would be limited to attacks on rebels. But the Kurds have expressed concern that civilians could be caught in the crossfire.

The Kurdish parliament met yesterday in a special session and unanimously approved a measure authorizing the peshmerga to defend themselves and the Kurdish region if they were attacked by Turkish troops.

A Turkish delegation will visit Baghdad today to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, both Kurds, as well as other top Iraqi officials, Mr. al-Dabbagh said.

Turkey launched the incursion into northern Iraq on Thursday against separatist rebels from the PKK.

Staff reporter David R. Sands in Washington contributed to this article.

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