After 8 Days, Turkey Pulls Its Troops Out Of Iraq

After 8 Days, Turkey Pulls Its Troops Out Of Iraq
March 1st, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: After 8 Days, Turkey Pulls Its Troops Out Of Iraq

After 8 Days, Turkey Pulls Its Troops Out Of Iraq
New York Times
March 1, 2008 By Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr.
Turkey’s military announced Friday that it had withdrawn all of its combat troops from northern Iraq, bringing an eight-day ground offensive against Kurdish guerrillas to an abrupt close, a day after the American secretary of defense warned Turkey to pull out.
Reports varied as to the extent of the pullout, however, with a senior American military official in Iraq saying it had only begun, and the Turks and an Iraqi official saying it was already complete.
In Turkey, the military bristled at the suggestion that it had been influenced by the United States and said that the ground campaign had simply run its course as its goals had been met.
“Both the start and the ending of the operation were fully determined on our part,” the military said in a statement. “Any internal or outside influence on the decision of the Turkish Armed Forces is out of discussion.”
However Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said in a telephone interview in Baghdad that he believed that pressure from American officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, was critical to the Turks’ decision to pull back. Mr. Gates visited Ankara, Turkey’s capital, on Thursday.
“It was a combination of reasons, but the United States’ position was very instrumental,” Mr. Zebari said. “The United States’ position was admirable for reminding the Turkish side of the gravity of the situation.”
Turkey began a ground offensive against fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party on Feb. 21, attacking with fighter jets and ground artillery. The group, known as the P.K.K., hides in the mountains of Turkey and Iraq and has fought the Turkish military for decades, demanding more rights for Turkey’s Kurds.
The conflict has put the United States in a difficult spot, setting Turkey, a member of NATO and a close ally, against Iraqi Kurds, its strongest partners in the war in Iraq. But United States intelligence and other assistance to Turkey paved the way for the Turkish strikes.
In Washington on Friday, the National Security Council spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said that “unless the P.K.K. gives up terrorism,” the United States would “have to continue to work with the Turks and the Iraqis to go after them.”
The Turkish military said its troops “returned to their home bases by the morning” on Friday.
Mr. Zebari, himself a Kurd, said his contacts in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq had assured him that the Turkish forces had crossed back into Turkey, beginning “in the early hours of the morning.”
But a senior American military officer in Iraq said it was “too early to call this a withdrawal,” and a representative of the Kurdish fighters in Iraq, Ahmed Denis, said some Turkish troops were still inside Iraq.
Turkish officials said the withdrawal was already under way when Mr. Gates arrived in Turkey on Thursday.
The Turkish military said the operation had dealt a serious blow to the P.K.K.’s network. But because it does not allow reporters to accompany it on operations and because the fighting took place in a remote area, it was impossible to verify the claims of either side.
The military said 24 Turkish soldiers, 3 Kurds working for the military and as many as 243 Kurdish fighters had been killed. It offered lists of destroyed items: 126 caves, 290 hide-outs and shelters, 12 command centers and 59 anti-aircraft sites, among others.
Mr. Denis, the P.K.K. spokesman, said the soldiers had partly withdrawn after a fierce counterattack by the militants that kept the Turks from seizing Zab, a strategically important area.
He said only five militants had been killed, and that the death toll among the Turks was 130.
Sabrina Tavernise reported from Yerevan, Armenia, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Baghdad. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Balen Y. Younis from Baghdad.

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