Turkey begins troop pullout from northern Iraq

February 29th, 2008 - 6:25 pm ICT by admin  

Ankara, Feb 29 (Xinhua) Turkish troops Friday started withdrawing from northern Iraq, eight days after they crossed the border to launch a ground offensive against the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels. However, the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces has not issued any statement on the pullout.

Turkey’s national NTV news channel reported that dozens of trucks ferried troops back to the Turkish border town of Cukurca from neighbouring Iraq’s north.

On Feb 21, some 10,000 Turkish troops crossed the border and entered 10 km inside northern Iraq to crack down on PKK rebels, who have long taken refuge in the region and used it as a springboard for attacks across the border as part of their separatist campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

US pressure on Turkey to end the operation mounted Thursday when President George W. Bush said that Turkey should withdraw its troops from northern Iraq “as soon as possible”.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush said that Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq should be limited and should end as soon as possible.

“It should not be long-lasting,” Bush said and added, “The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out.”

Hours before Bush’s remarks, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also said in Ankara that Turkey’s cross-border ground operation against the PKK rebels in northern Iraq should be short and as precisely targeted as possible.

The Turkish National Security Council said that the cross-border operations against the PKK would continue as long as necessary.

Iraq has also voiced its grave concern over Turkey’s cross-border action, saying it is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

The US has been declining to condemn Turkish incursion into Iraq, saying that the outlawed PKK fighters are “a threat” to Turkey, Iraq and the US.

The PKK, listed by the US, European Union and Turkey as a terrorist group, took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the over-two-decade conflict.

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