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Turkish Military Says Offensive into Northern Iraq is Over


The Turkish military says all its troops have withdrawn from northern Iraq after a weeklong assault on Kurdish rebels. In a statement, the military claimed its Iraq operation targeted some 300 rebels and killed 240 of them. As Dorian Jones reports for the VOA from Istanbul, in the last few days international pressure, especially from the United States, has been increasing on Turkey to end the operation.

The Turkish military issued a statement on its Web page saying all Turkish troops had withdrawn from northern Iraq by Friday morning.

The statement also gave a detailed list of more than 400 logistical targets destroyed, including weapons depots and command bases belonging to the rebels.

Turkey accuses the rebels of the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK of using Iraq as a base to launch attacks against its forces. Turkish media have been broadcasting pictures of trucks carrying soldiers and equipment back to Turkey from Iraq.

The withdrawal comes after international pressure increased on Turkey to end the incursion. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with Turkey's political leadership and called for an early end to the operation.

"The United States believes the current operation must be as a short and as precisely targeted as possible," Gates said.

The Turkish Army claims the decision to end the operation was a purely military move and that domestic or international pressure was not part of the decision.

But analysts say Washington's support was crucial to the cross-border operation.

For the last few months, Washington has been providing Turkey's military with intelligence on the Kurdish rebels, and its diplomatic muscle was seen as important in deflecting growing international criticism.

But with the United States starting to voice impatience, time appeared to run out for the incursion. The Turkish military admitted the operation has not removed the threat of the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Retired Turkish General Haldun Solmazturk, who fought the PKK for eight years, says the incursion's real objective is more psychological than military .

"Fatal would be too much to describe the potential effect," he said. "But it would be a major blow. Because in any conflict you do not fight the people, you fight the minds and wills of the people. Such an operation will be a major blow on the will of the people."

According to analysts, the key test of the operation's success will be in the coming weeks, with the arrival of spring. The melting of winter snow traditionally sees Kurdish rebels crossing over the mountainous border into Turkey to launch an offensive against Turkish forces. Even though the incursion has ended, Ankara is expected to remain under international pressure.

Secretary of Defense Gates, while visiting Ankara, stressed the need for a political as well as a military solution to the conflict. The European Union, which Turkey is aspiring to join, has called for cultural and economic reforms for Turkey's Kurdish population, as a way to undermine support for the rebels.

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