Iraq demands Turkey to withdraw its troops, as Erdogan defends the operation (UPDATED)

The Iraqi government on Tuesday denounced the Turkish incursion and demanded an immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq, while Erdogan defended the operation. Turkish army said on Tuesday two more soldiers were killed on Monday night.

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Turkish General Staff said two more soldiers killed on Monday night during a clash with PKK militants, bringing the total death toll among the troops to 19. Turkish army also said in statement on Tuesday that heavy snow hampers troops' advance on PKK targets. "Some targets determined in the cross border operation area are being hit by Turkish Armed Forces' jets and ground-based long distanced armed weapons" it added. Dogan News Agency (DHA) previously reported 39 more PKK militants were killed in the clashes since last night, taking the total number of PKK fatalities to 192.

Iraq government's spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the military action was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and he called on the Turkish government to engage the Iraqis in dialogue instead. "The Iraqi Cabinet has denounced the Turkish armys 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 military interference."

But in Ankara Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan defended Tuesday Turkey's military offensive. "Turkey's cross-border operation is a result of its legitimate right to self-defence," Erdogan said in a televised speech to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). "Turkey is in a rightful struggle against the terrorist organization that is threatening regional peace and stability... Turkey has the right to defend itself, eliminate those that harm its citizens peace, unity and solidarity," he said.

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Erdogan argued that the PKK presence was a source of "political instability" for Baghdad and gave fresh assurances that Turkeys military action had no aim other than routing the rebels. "This operation is not against northern Iraq but only against the terrorist organization... Turkey has always supported the protection of Iraqs territorial integrity, sovereignty and political unity," he added.


YESTERDAY'S STATEMENT ON THE OPERATION                                

Turkish General Staff said on Monday total number of PKK members killed during the ground operation in the northern Iraq launched on Thursday rose to 153. It said the military had hit some 30 targets of the PKK in a 24-hour period. Turkish army also said hot clash with terrorists continues in two separate locations, adding that a group of Turkish troops returned to Turkey and have been replaced by new groups of Turkish soldiers.

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Dogan News Agency (DHA) reported that Turkish troops entered 25 kilometers inside the Iraqi border and besieged the Zap camp known as one of the important bases of PKK. DHA also said one of the woman leaders of PKK were killed during the clashes. Turkish special forces blocked the roads heading to Mount Qandil, where the PKK members were said to be hiding.                                                                    

Turkish troops were engaged in fierce clashes with PKK militants in northern Iraq as they closed in on one of the main PKK camps, security sources in the region told AFP on Tuesday. Members of the Kurdish security force in the autonomous north of Iraq said sustained fighting continued unabated since late Sunday as troops, backed by artillery and air cover, fought to seize a main PKK camp in the Zap area. The camp, situated in a deep valley just a six-kilometer (four-mile) walk from the Turkish border, is one of the main passages used by PKK militants to infiltrate Turkish territory for attacks.

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Turkey began the operation to curb the PKK's, considered as terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U., ability to attack Turkish targets from hideouts on the Iraqi side of the border last week. It is the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turkey has assured Iraq that the operation would be limited to attacks on PKK.        



The White House has confirmed that it knew in advance of Turkey's latest military operation, which began Thursday night. American officials have said Turkey has the right to defend itself against the PKK, which has bases in northern Iraq. But the U.S. also has an allegiance to Iraq's government, which has protested the Turkish incursion.

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The EU presidency said on Tuesday that it is following Turkish Army's operation with "great concern. "While recognizing Turkey's need to protect its population from terrorism, the Presidency calls on Turkey to refrain from taking any disproportionate military action and to respect Iraq's territorial integrity, human rights and the rule of law. It also calls on Turkey to limit its military activities to those which are absolutely necessary for achieving its main purpose - the protection of the Turkish population from terrorism" Slovenia, the EU president, said in a statement. It also reiterated said Turkish authorities should pursue dialogue with its international partners.

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