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140,000 Turkish Troops on Iraq Border

The tensions between Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq has been building steadily, ever since the five year-old unilateral cease-fire ended in 2004. When the Kurdistan Worker's Party called for a cease fire in September, 2006, that call was rejected by the Turks, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying "A ceasefire is done between states. It is not something for the terrorist organization." Now, fighting seems imminent.

The Washington Post is now reporting:

Turkey has massed 140,000 soldiers on its border with northern Iraq, Iraq's foreign minister said Monday, calling the neighboring country's fears of Kurdish rebels based there "legitimate" but better resolved through negotiation.

The Turkish military had no comment to the remarks by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd from northern Iraq, and it was unclear where he got the figures. If they are accurate, Turkey would have nearly as many soldiers along its border with Iraq as the 155,000 troops which the U.S. has in the country.

Zebari's comments came amid calls by Turkey's military for the government to give it the green light to carry out military operations in northern Iraqi against the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

"Turkey is building up forces on the border. There are 140,000 soldiers fully armed on the border. We are against any military interference or violation of Iraqi sovereignty," Zebari said in Baghdad.

Turkey has been pressuring the United States and Iraq to eliminate PKK bases in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq and has said it will carry out a cross-border offensive if necessary.

"Turkey's fears are legitimate but such things can be discussed," Zebari said. ""The perfect solution is the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the borders."

He added: "No one wants a new military conflict in the region."

He said there had been no "Turkey military violation until now," citing artillery shelling and Turkish surveillance overflights.

Pentagon officials said they could not immediately confirm the report from Zebari, and repeated the hope that Turkey would not launch an incursion into Iraq.

"We've been working with them and recognize that problem that exists there. But we're also encouraging them that an incursion into Iraq is not the way to solve this," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters Monday.

Turkey has long complained of U.S. inaction against separatist rebels, who have escalated attacks inside Turkey in recent months. Last week, Turkey's military chief asked the government to set political guidelines for an incursion into northern Iraq.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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