Turkey resists pressure to end northern Iraq offensive

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The Independent Online

Turkey has said it had "no timetable" to withdraw troops fighting Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, resisting pressure from the US and other allies to end the offensive quickly.

Turkish troops crossed the border last Thursday to root out Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters, which have used remote mountainous northern Iraq as a base in their armed campaign for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish south-east of Turkey.

"Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until... those terrorist bases are eliminated," said the Turkish envoy Ahmet Davutoglu after talks in Baghdad with the Iraqi Foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Mr Davutoglu was sent to Baghdad to explain Ankara's position on the offensive. He also met top US officials in Iraq, including the military commander General David Petraeus.

The acting Iraqi Prime Minister, Barham Saleh, said a prolonged Turkish operation would lead to "dire" consequences for the region and repeated Baghdad's demand that the incursion end. "This would be highly destabilising, it's dangerous to the stability of Iraq and the region as a whole," said Mr Saleh, a Kurd.

Turkey's military said another 77 PKK rebels had been killed in heavy fighting since Tuesday night, taking the death toll among the rebels to 230 since Turkey's offensive began. It also said 24 Turkish soldiers had been killed in that time.

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, due to meet Turkish officials today, said Turkey must limit its operations to days rather than months. "It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave, and to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty," he said.

The Turkish state-run Anatolian news agency reported troops, backed up by helicopter gunships, had been reinforced along the Iraqi border to stop PKK troops fleeing into Turkey during the offensive.