BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq said on Wednesday it believed Turkey was unlikely to extend a military operation against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq but criticised Ankara for what it branded an attack on its sovereignty.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh urged Ankara to end the military action -- which comes after weeks of mounting cross-border tensions -- and use dialogue to solve the rebel issue.
"We feel this issue will not be solved militarily. Any such action is an attack on Iraq's sovereignty," he told AFP.
Around 500 Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Tuesday targeting rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas based in the mountainous terrain along the border with Turkey.
The ground incursion was the first such operation since tensions between the two neighbours broke out after the rebels ambushed a Turkish military patrol on October 21 and killed 12 soldiers.
"We believe Turkey is not going to extend the operation. It is a limited operation," Dabbagh said.
Turkey's military said on Tuesday that "a small-scale operation conducted by ground troops... dealt a heavy blow" to PKK militants who had tried to infiltrate Turkey overnight.
Iraqi Kurdish officials from northern Iraq said on Tuesday evening that Ankara had started withdrawing the troops, but Dabbagh said he did not know if the pull-out had yet been completed.
Lawmaker Mahmud Othman, a Kurd, said on Wednesday that the Turkish troops had fully withdrawn.
"They came for a specific operation but were unsuccessful. This is the information I have from local people there. There were casualties on both the sides," he told AFP.
Turkey did not indicate how many troops took part in the incursion, which began after the army said it had "received images" of a rebel group attempting to sneak across the border.
Local Iraqi officials said about 500 soldiers crossed into remote areas in northern Iraq and began withdrawing by Tuesday afternoon.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
The incursion on Tuesday followed Turkish air strikes on Sunday on rebel positions in northern Iraq where the PKK is known to have camps.
The Turkish army has voiced determination to continue cross-border operations in line with a parliamentary authorisation in October that approved such incursions to end the safe haven the PKK enjoys in northern Iraq.
Turkish officials have claimed that they had support from Washington which opened northern Iraqi airspace after which Turkish planes bombed areas along the border on Sunday.
The White House raised no public objections to the incursion by Turkey, a key Muslim ally of the United States.
"There are conflicting reports in terms of the depth and scope and breadth of it," said Dana Perino, spokeswoman for the White House. "We've asked Turkey to be very limited in its activities."
The Pentagon promised to keep supplying its NATO partner with intelligence to "deal with" the PKK, while the White House called the group "a threat" to Turkey, the United States and Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Iraq on Tuesday, suffered a diplomatic snub over the perceived US approval of Turkish air attacks, with Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani refusing to meet her.
"It is unacceptable that the United States, in charge of monitoring our airspace, authorised Turkey to bomb our villages," Kurdish regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani said.
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