Turkey vows to finish off PKK in Iraq

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TURKISH troops have advanced up to 10 miles into northern Iraq on a 20-mile-wide front, an official statement said yesterday, as Ankara vowed that a nearly four- week-old offensive undertaken with Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas would continue until the eradication of Turkey's rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Clearly doubting the ability of Iraqi Kurds to push the PKK out on their own, the Turkish armed forces Chief of Staff, Dogan Gures, said he hoped Turkish troops would not have to stay for the winter but did not rule out a Turkish security zone in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. 'Our security comes first . . . We asked ourselves, can the peshmerga do this (alone)? We said, let's clean this marsh out,' General Gures told Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Fighting continued yesterday. The PKK's exiled leadership angrily rejected statements by some Iraqi Kurds that its local units were negotiating to accept political asylum or safe passage to Iran, Syria or even Baghdad.

'We have not withdrawn one inch . . . from being on the defensive, we are going on the attack,' the PKK was quoted as saying by London's Kurdistan Information Centre. The PKK has an estimated guerrilla force of 10,000, many of whom were trapped in the pincer movement between Turks from the north and Iraqi Kurds on the south.

A Turkish statement said the army controlled 62 square miles of Iraq on two main fronts, one known as Haftanin, north-east of the Iraqi town of Zakho and the other around the Hakurk valley, close to the Iranian border.

The Turkish statement said 11 soldiers were killed, but at least 39 PKK guerrillas died. It added that the PKK death-toll might rise to 400. Iraqi Kurds say at least 100 fighters have died on both sides of their fronts.

Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas went on the offensive against the PKK early this month, saying the PKK was trying to occupy their new 'federal' state and to overturn their government. They added that its cross-border attacks against Turkey could wreck allied basing agreements that protect them from Iraqi attack.

Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, even accused the PKK of being part of a plot to bring regional powers together against the Kurds by fighting for an independent united state for all the 20 million Kurds split between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Nechirwan Barzani, the number two in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said the Iraqi Kurds had no choice. The Iraqi Kurds' half-hearted moves did not initially work against the hardened Marxist group, leading Turkish troops to advance to block PKK infiltration routes into Turkey two weeks ago.

Turkey has firm backing from the West, but to allay regional fears that it might be upsetting the balance and reviving latent Ottoman claims to the oil-rich Iraqi north, the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, has called for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia on 14 November to discuss the situation in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds' attack on the PKK has been at a great price. For two weeks virtually no trucks have crossed the only customs point between Turkey and northern Iraq, shutting down this precious trading lifeline and vital route for Western winter aid.

Prices for imported goods have soared and the Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdish government, Fuad Masum, said that it had crippled customs revenue, his four- month-old government's principal source of income.

(Map omitted)