EU Voices Concern Over Turkish Military Incursion Into Iraq | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.02.2008
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EU Voices Concern Over Turkish Military Incursion Into Iraq

After a reported 10,000 Turkish troops crossed into Iraq Thursday evening in an effort to destroy Kurdish rebel bases in the mountainous region, the EU urged Turkey to exercise restraint and respect Iraq's border.

Turkish jets in the sky

Disproportionate military action?

"We understand the concerns of Turkey," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana at the conclusion of a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brdo, Slovenia.

Both the EU and the US list the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist group. The EU, however, also does not want to see any action that might further destabilize Iraq.

"We think that this action in Iraq is not the best response," said Solana. "The territorial integrity of Iraq is for us very, very important.

Meanwhile, back at EU headquarters in Brussels, spokeswomen Krisztina Nagy warned Turkey against "disproportionate military action" but said Ankara had a right to protect its people from terror.

UN also concerned

Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed for restraint

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for restraint and respect of Iraq's borders.

"While conscious of Turkey's concerns, [Ban] reiterates his appeal for utmost restraint, and for respect of the international borders between Iraq and Turkey," Ban's spokesman Farhan Haq said.

"He also repeats his previous calls for an immediate end to continued incursions by PKK elements carrying out terrorist attacks from northern Iraq," Haq said.

The Turkish troops' ground incursion into Iraq is the first confirmed operation of that kind since the US-led strike that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A "limited" operation

Iraqi soldiers on the Turkish border

The Turkish-Iraqi border has long been a cause for concern

Turkish soldiers crossed the border on Thursday evening after a day of air and artillery attacks on suspected PKK targets in Iraq, the General Staff announced in a statement posted on its official website.

The statement said the operation would be limited and that the troops would return to Turkey in the "shortest time possible."

The NTV private television station reported that 10,000 had crossed the border.

"This operation's target is the PKK terrorist organization," the statement said. "It is a continuity of the air operations that have been carried out. Civilians and local elements who do not show hostility to Turkish forces will not be negatively affected by this operation."

The military statement said the aim of the operation was to stop the PKK from using mountainous northern Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks on Turkey. The General Staff has previously estimated that there are around 4,000 to 5,000 PKK guerrillas based in northern Iraq.

Respecting international law

A Turkish soldier surveys the area at a guard post next to the Cudi mountains in Cizre

At the moment, the border region is still covered with heavy snow

More than 32,000 people have been killed since 1984 when the PKK launched its fight for independence or autonomy for the mainly Kurdish-populated south-east part of Turkey.

Germany is watching the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq with concern and is worried about possible escalation, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said in Berlin on Friday.

The presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq represented a "not inconsiderable risk of destabilization," Martin Jaeger said.

"We call on the Turkish government in its fight against terrorism to reduce its steps to the minimum to protect its own people," Jaeger said.

He warned against the possibility of escalation and said that international law had to be respected.

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