Iraq fears Turkey troop build-up

155.jpgIraq says Turkey has 140,000 soldiers along its border, prompting fears of an incursion against Kurdish guerrillas. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari an ethnic Kurd himself, said his government was against any breach of Iraqi sovereignty.

He called for talks with Ankara to solve the issue.

Turkey accuses Kurdish separatists of staging attacks from inside Iraq. It has often warned Baghdad that it is prepared to take military action.

Turkey has not commented on the figure of 140,000 quoted by Mr Zebari. If the figure is accurate, Turkey would have nearly as many soldiers along its border with Iraq as the 155,000 troops which the US has in the country.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the US shared Turkey’s concerns but that it was “important, we think, to recognise the territorial sovereignty of Iraq”.

Mr Zebari said he understood Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns”, but said the best way to address them was by reviving the tripartite military and security commission, which involves Iraq, Turkey and the US.

“We are fighting terrorism here in the streets and neighbourhoods of Baghdad. If the expectation (is) to release all these troops to go and fight in the north and in the Kurdish mountains, the thing is that the timing is not right for that,” Mr Zebari said.

Turkey has been fighting the left-wing PKK Kurdish guerrillas since 1984, in a war which has claimed up to 30,000 lives.

There has been an upsurge in fighting in recent months, with the Turkish army claiming it has killed 110 rebels since the start of the year and losing in turn 67 soldiers in clashes with the PKK.

The government of the Islamist-rooted AK Party has been under pressure from the military to take action against Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq.

There have been a series of reports of a build-up of Turkish troops along the border in recent weeks. Last week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the government and the military had agreed detailed plans on how a cross-border offensive might be carried out.

BBC regional analyst Stephanie Irvine says the current build-up of troops at the border may herald action or may be designed merely to show Washington and Baghdad that Ankara is running out of patience with their failure to deal with the Turkish separatist rebels in northern Iraq.

Turkey is in the middle of an election campaign, with parliamentary polls due to take place on 22 July.

Nationalist parties are expected to perform well on the back of the wave of popular clamour for action against Kurdish separatists.

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