From: Reuters
Published December 18, 2007 05:14 AM

Turkish troops cross into Iraq: Iraqi officials

By Shamal Aqrawi

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Hundreds of Turkish troops crossed into Kurdish territory in northern Iraq overnight, Iraqi officials said.

A senior Iraqi military source told Reuters 300 lightly-armed Turkish troops had crossed the border overnight and moved 1-2 miles deeper into Iraq on Tuesday morning in the Gali Rash area, a mountainous district near the border.

There were no reports of clashes, said the source, who asked not to be named.

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There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials. Turkey says it has a right to use military force to combat Kurdish separatist rebels who shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurdish regional government criticized the raid, which it said had taken place in the Khuwakork area.

"We condemn this incursion. Turkey wants to transfer the problem onto the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan," said Fouad Hussein, head of the office of Kurdish regional President Mahmoud Barzani. He said he did not know the precise size of the Turkish force that had crossed the border.

A Web site linked to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's party said as many as 700 Turkish troops had gone as far as 5 miles into Iraq.

Turkish warplanes bombed villages in northern Iraq over the weekend. Iraq complained that at least one civilian woman was killed in the weekend strikes, and has said it wants any future military action to be coordinated with Baghdad.

The incursion comes as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Iraq on a visit. Washington, which has 155,000 troops in Iraq, said it was informed of the weekend air raids in advance.

The United States says it sympathizes with Turkey's fight against Kurdish guerrillas but does not want Ankara to take large-scale cross-border military action that might destabilize Iraq.

Tension at the border has been high since October, but a full-scale Turkish invasion of northern Iraq is seen as unlikely, especially in winter months.

(Reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil and Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya; writing by Peter Graff in Baghdad; editing by Keith Weir)

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