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Turkey Pulls Troops from Iraq

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Turkey says it's withdrawing its troops from Northern Iraq. This morning's announcement came after more than a week of fighting in Iraq's mostly Kurdish region. Turkey was trying to weaken a Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK, which Turkey says has attacked Turkish targets from across the border in Iraq. NPR's Ivan Watson has been following this story and joins us from Istanbul. And Ivan, was this a surprise?

IVAN WATSON: The Turkish military says it is, quote, "out of the question that the terrorist organization" - meaning the PKK - "is entirely eliminated with one regional operation." But it added a list of weapons and caves that were supposedly destroyed and added claims that up to 240 PKK fighters were killed in this eight days of fighting, while some 24 Turkish soldiers were killed throughout the clashes.

MONTAGNE: Well, just yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Turkish leaders while he was in that country that they should end the offensive as soon as possible. So how much was this withdrawal, do you think, a result of U.S. pressure?

WATSON: The interesting thing is the Turkish military made the point of adding to their announcement that, quote, "No internal or external influences were a factor in this decision to pull out of Northern Iraq." But you cannot deny the fact that just yesterday the U.S. defense secretary was in the Turkish capital saying the operation should end within days or a week or two maximum. And President Bush joined in yesterday publicly urging the Turks to pull out as well.

MONTAGNE: And Iraqi authorities, what are they saying to this pullout?

WATSON: Well, this week the Iraqi government also demanded Turkey's immediate withdrawal from Iraqi territory. Baghdad said that it officially considers the PKK a terrorist organization, much like Turkey, the U.S. and the Europeans do, but said that this is not the correct way to deal with the entrenched PKK presence in the mountains of Northern Iraq, that it should not be done through unilateral Turkish military incursion, and the government in Baghdad condemned this action by the Turks.

MONTAGNE: This battle between the Kurds in Turkey and Turkey, the government, the country, is a long-running one. What's likely to happen next?

WATSON: The PKK also made a public appeal for Kurds in Turkey to rise up and rebel against the Turkish state, but we have not seen street clashes throughout Turkish cities or even really acts of violence.

MONTAGNE: Ivan, thanks very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ivan Watson speaking from Istanbul in Turkey on news today that Turkey has ended its ground offensive in Northern Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.