Turkey refuses to give timetable on withdrawal from Iraq


Ankara/Baghdad : Turkish political and military leaders Thursday refused to give US Defence Secretary Robert Gates an exact date for the withdrawal of Turkish troops fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

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Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukyanit merely said that they would leave in the “shortest time possible.”

“The shortest time possible is a relative concept. For some it may be one day or for others it might mean a year,” Buyukyanit was quoted by NTV private television as saying before talks with Gates in Ankara.

Earlier, Gates said that Turkey should quickly wrap up its military incursion against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

In order to stop “terror,” not just military but also economic and political initiatives must be made, he said.

Gates was quoted by CNN-Turk television as saying after talks with Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul that the Washington wanted the operation to be “short and precisely targeted.”

Gonul said that while Turkey had no plans to become an occupying force, “we will stay for as long as necessary.”

The defence minister reiterated Turkey’s stance that the sole target of the operation was Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq.

With heavy fighting continuing Thursday in and around two Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) camps in mountainous northern Iraq, Gates was later scheduled to meet President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Buyukyanit.

According to a statement released by the Turkish military Wednesday 230 PKK fighters, 24 Turkish soldiers and three state-employed village guards have been killed since Turkey launched “Operation Gunes” on the night of Feb 21.

Up to 10,000 Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq in an operation designed to destroy the PKK’s ability to launch attacks inside Turkey. The Turkish military estimates there are between 4,000 and 5,000 PKK guerrillas based in the region.

Ankara blames the separatist group for the deaths of more than 32,000 people since the early 1980s when the PKK began its fight for independence or autonomy for the mainly Kurdish-populated south-east of Turkey.

Baghdad has said it sympathizes with Turkey concerning the PKK but that the incursion will not solve the problem, and has called on Ankara to call off the operation.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.