Iraqi government demands Turkey's immediate withdrawal

Government spokesman warns any military mistake could widen the conflict and endanger civilians.

turkey iraq 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
turkey iraq 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Iraqi government on Tuesday denounced the Turkish incursion and demanded an immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq. Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the military action was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and called on the Turkish government to engage the Iraqis in dialogue instead. "The Iraqi Cabinet has denounced the Turkish army's incursion," al-Dabbagh said in a televised statement after the government met to discuss the issue. "The Cabinet calls on Turkey to withdraw its troops immediately and stop the military intervention." Al-Dabbagh has been critical of the incursion, but his statement on Tuesday represented the first time the Iraqi government has demanded Turkey's withdrawal. He warned that tensions could escalate if Kurdish military forces known as peshmerga were drawn into the fight. "We want good relations with Turkey and Turkey should understand that the situation is dangerous and could be made worse by any military mistake that could prompt clashes between the peshmerga and Turkish troops," al-Dabbagh said. "Then the military intervention might be widened and civilians might be endangered and infrastructure damaged." A Turkish delegation will visit Baghdad on Wednesday to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, both Kurds, as well as other top Iraqi officials, al-Dabbagh said. Turkey has assured the Iraqi government and the US military that the operation would be limited to attacks on rebels. But the Kurds have expressed concern that civilians could be caught in the crossfire. The Kurdish parliament met Tuesday in a special session and unanimously approved a measure authorizing the peshmerga to defend themselves and the Kurdish region if they were attacked by Turkish troops. It also called on the Turkish government for compensation for material losses sustained as a result of the incursion, according to Kurdish lawmaker Sardar Harki. Turkey launched the incursion into northern Iraq on Thursday against separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The PKK wants autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and rebels have carried out attacks in Turkey from bases in Kurdish Iraq. The conflict started in 1984 and has killed up to 40,000 people. Al-Dabbagh acknowledged the threat to Turkey posed by the rebels and said Iraq stood ready to work through three-way discussions with the United States or any bilateral dialogue to prevent the PKK from using Iraqi territory to attack Turkey. "The unilateral military activity is an unacceptable deed and endangers the good bilateral relations between our two neighboring countries," he said, promising that Iraq would continue to respect mutual agreements with Turkey. "The Iraqi Cabinet also understands the legitimate interests of Turkey and we will not allow Iraqi lands to be used as a base from which operations are launched to destabilize security in the region," he said. Iraqi parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, also called on the Turkish government to withdraw its troops, saying the incursion was a "flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty." The Shiite deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiyah also urged Turkey to "seek peaceful dialogue and diplomatic means" to resolve the crisis and to "cooperate with the Iraqi government to get rid of outlawed armed groups that destabilize security in both countries." The Turkish military has said 153 rebels have been killed in the operation. The Kurdish rebels disputed the claim and warned that Turkey had entered a conflict that it cannot win. A statement posted on the military's Web site Monday also said two more soldiers were killed in fighting, but gave no details. The deaths would bring the total Turkish military fatalities since the start of the incursion Thursday to 17.