Turkey declares ‘security zones’ near Iraq border

ANKARA (AP) — Turkey has declared several areas near the border with Iraq to be “temporary security zones” in a sign of increasing activity by the military in its campaign against Kurdish rebels.

The declaration Wednesday came amid a Turkish military buildup on the border, and on the same day as Turkish security officials and an Iraqi Kurdish official said hundreds of Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas who launch raids into Turkey.

Turkey’s foreign minister denied there was a cross-border operation.

The military did not clarify what it meant by “temporary security zones,” but some Turkish media reports Thursday said the areas would be off-limits to civilian flights.

Others said the zones meant that additional security measures would be implemented, and entry into the regions would be restricted and tightly controlled. In a statement posted on its website, the Turkish military released the coordinates of the areas that would be affected and said the zones would be in place until September 9, but gave no other information.

Newspapers said the coordinates relate to areas of the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt and Hakkari. Sirnak and Hakkari border northern Iraq, while Siirt is further north of the border. All three provinces have been the scene of fighting with Kurdish rebels. Three Turkish officials described Wednesday’s cross-border operation as a “hot pursuit” raid that was limited in scope, and one of them said troops returned to their bases by the end of the day. Turkey has conducted such brief raids in the past, but the latest incident comes as rebels escalate attacks in their decades-old fight for autonomy in southeast Turkey.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied forces had entered Iraq.

In an interview late Wednesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an incursion into northern Iraq would require parliamentary approval.

“A parliamentary decision is required, steps would be taken accordingly,” Erdogan told Kanal 24 television. “If we are to take a cross-border step, we’ll negotiate this with our security forces, and when such a thing is necessary, we’ll take it to parliament.” Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have said Turkey is considering a cross-border offensive, and have sent more troops and equipment to the frontier with Iraq. But they want the United States and Iraqi Kurds to act on their appeals for a crackdown on separatist fighters, who raid southeast Turkey after resting, training and resupplying in Iraq. Meanwhile, the death toll in a suicide attack in the capital last month rose to eight — including the bomber — after another seriously injured victim died in hospital, doctors said Thursday.

Turkish officials suspect separatist Kurdish rebels, who have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since 1984, were behind the rush-hour attack outside a busy shopping mall. The rebel PKK group denied responsibility.

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