Turkey declines to pledge quick Iraq exit, US mounts pressure

AFP
Friday, February 29, 2008

Turkey insisted Thursday that its offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq will continue "as long as necessary," while US President George Bush mounted pressure on Ankara to wrap up its incursion quickly.

As US Defence Secretary Robert Gates held talks in Ankara, Turkish warplanes bombed separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq and intensive fighting was reported on the ground near a major rebel base.

Seven Kurdish rebels were killed during clashes Wednesday, bringing to 237 the number of separatist fighters killed in a week of fighting, the Turkish army reported Thursday.

In Washington, Bush said the incursion, launched on February 21, should be "limited and... temporary in nature."

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He urged the Turkish military "to move quickly, achieve their objective and then get out... as quickly as possible."

Speaking after meeting with Gates earlier, Turkish Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul refused to give a timetable for a pull-out.

"Turkey will remain in northern Iraq as long as necessary" and the troops will return home once PKK hideouts are destroyed, he told reporters.

"There is no need for us to stay there after we finish (off) the terrorist infrastructure... We have no intention to interfere in (Iraqi) domestic politics, no intention to occupy any area," he said.

Gates had said Tuesday the offensive should last no longer than "a week or two" but Turkish army chief Yasar Buyukanit made it clear that Ankara would not be constrained by deadlines.

"A short time is a relative term. Sometimes this can mean one day and sometimes one year," he said after talks with Gates, adding that the United States has been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan "for years."

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