Turkey: No Timeline for Iraq Withdrawal

Turkish Army to Stay in Iraq 'as Long as Necessary'
Middle East Online

Turkish Defense Minister refuses to give timetable for troop withdrawal from northern Iraq.

ANKARA - The Turkish army will remain in northern Iraq "as long as necessary," Turkish Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul said Thursday, refusing to give a timetable for a troop withdrawal.

"Turkey will remain in northern Iraq as long as necessary," Gonul told reporters after talks here with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

He said Turkey is targeting only rebel fighters of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and has "no intention to occupy any area" in the region.

Gates said "a specific timetable did not come up" in the meeting with Gonul and urged Turkey to wrap up its operation as soon as possible.

Turkey's offensive "should be as short and precisely targeted as possible," he said.

Gates is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukanit later in the day.

The American warned Turkey Tuesday that its incursion in northern Iraq should last no more than "a week or two."

Turkish forces stormed into northern Iraq on February 21 to uproot the PKK, which has long used camps in the region as a springboard for attacks inside Turkish territory.


Iraq says Turkey Incursion 'Unacceptable'
Agence France Presse

AMADIYAH, Iraq (AFP) -- Iraq on Tuesday slammed Turkey's "unacceptable" cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels, even as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan justified the incursion as a legitimate act of self-defence.

The Turkish army said it killed a number of rebels and lost two soldiers on the fifth full day of its military operation in northern Iraq, but added that its advance was being "partially" hampered by heavy snowfall in the mountainous region.

In its strongest reaction to date, the Baghdad government condemned the operation as a violation of its sovereignty.

The "unilateral military action was unacceptable and it threatened the good relations between the two neighbouring countries," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

His remarks came just hours after Erdogan issued a staunch defence of Turkey's move against the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is blacklisted by much of the international community as a terrorist organization.

"Turkey's cross-border operation is a result of its legitimate right to self-defence," Erdogan said in a televised speech.

"Turkey is in a rightful struggle against the terrorist organization that is threatening regional peace and stability."

Turkish forces stormed into the autonomous Kurdish-run north of Iraq on Thursday to flush out an estimated 4,000 PKK rebels who Ankara says use the region as a springboard for attacks in their 23-year armed separatist campaign in southeast Turkey.

Iraq and the United States have issued repeated calls for the incursion to be wrapped up as swiftly as possible, so as to avoid destabilising one of Iraq's relatively stable areas.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is expected to fly to Ankara Wednesday for talks on the offensive the following day.

Turkey says it will withdraw its troops once they achieve their objective of routing the rebels and destroying their camps, but has given no timeframe.

The general staff said in a statement that two more soldiers were killed in a rebel attack overnight, bringing to 19 overall Turkish losses since the beginning of the incursion.

The militants "were silenced with light and heavy weapons fire, but their losses could not be determined because of bad weather," it said.

The toll of PKK militants killed stood at 153 on Monday, according to the Turkish military.

The PKK claims to have killed 81 soldiers and to have shot down an attack helicopter.

Roj-TV, a Denmark-based Kurdish channel, which Ankara says is a mouthpiece of the PKK, broadcast Tuesday what it said were images of the helicopter's wreckage, but the army said the images belonged to a helicopter destroyed in 1987.

Turkish warplanes continued to bomb PKK positions and "several critical locations" were reinforced with fresh units, the army said.

Earlier, regional security forces in northern Iraq reported sustained fighting overnight near a main PKK base in the Zap area as well as ongoing clashes in the mountainous Hakurk area to the east.

In the eastern Turkish city of Van, dozens of demonstrators spilled to the streets to condemn the offensive, a day after a similar protest drew up to 10,000 people in Diyarbakir in the country's southeast, the Anatolia news agency said.

Nine people were detained and 12 people -- among them four policemen -- sustained light injuries in a subsequent street clash with police, it reported.

Television footage showed protestors throwing stones at police who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Society Party, condemned the operation as a "war" and a move that would antagonise Turkey's restive Kurdish community.

"We see the operation as a decision that will make it difficult to live side by side," senior party member Ahmet Turk said.


Iraq Halts Kirkuk Oil Exports to Turkey
The Guardian (UK)

KIRKUK, Iraq, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Iraq halted exports of Kirkuk crude through its northern pipeline to Turkey on Wednesday but Iraqi officials said they expected pumping to resume by Friday morning.

An engineer with the Northern Oil Company in Kirkuk blamed a technical fault in a pumping unit for the halt, while a spokesman for the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, Asim Jihad, said it was due to routine maintenance of the pipeline. The engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iraq had been pumping 350,000 barrels of crude a day before Wednesday.

A shipper said Iraqi oil in storage at the Turkish terminal in Ceyhan stood at around 1 million barrels, but Jihad said there were "more than 3 million barrels" ready to be loaded onto waiting vessels.

"We have enough crude there to supply the ships to conduct maintenance on the pipeline," Jihad told Reuters.

Both he and the Kirkuk engineer agreed that pumping could resume as early as Thursday evening but no later than Friday morning.

"We are doing our best to fix the fault as soon as possible and if we manage to repair it we will begin pumping again tonight or Friday morning," the engineer said.

Exports through the pipeline are frequently interrupted by saboteurs or technical faults and the pipeline has mostly been paralysed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

An Iraqi official said on Sunday that Turkey's military incursion into Northern Iraq would have no impact on exports as the route of the pipeline is outside the conflict area. (Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, writing by Ross Colvin, editing by Anthony Barker)

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