November 21, 2007 / 11:25 AM / 12 years ago

Turkey president sees "common sense" in N. Iraq

ANKARA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Turkey’s president said on Wednesday "common sense" was gaining ground in northern Iraq, in comments that seemed to signal a reduced chance of Turkish military intervention against Kurdish rebels.

Ankara has massed up to 100,000 troops near its mountainous border with Iraq, backed up by tanks, artillery and warplanes, in preparation for a possible incursion to root out militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hiding there.

But analysts say improved intelligence sharing between NATO allies the United States and Turkey and measures taken by the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq have lessened the likelihood of a major Turkish cross-border incursion. Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government has set up roadblocks to stop the flow of food and fuel to the PKK guerrillas, who use the region as a launchpad for attacks on targets inside Turkey.

"We see that common sense has slowly started to dominate in northern Iraq," Turkey’s Anatolian state news agency quoted President Abdullah Gul as saying during a visit to Tbilisi in neighbouring Georgia. "The northern Iraq administration must assess carefully the costs of using the PKK and the benefits of cooperating with Turkey," Gul said.

Turkey has long accused Masoud Barzani’s administration of giving PKK guerrillas free rein in the region. Barzani has refused repeated requests from Ankara to crack down on the rebels but has begun to act after increased U.S. pressure.

Both Washington and Baghdad are anxious to avert a major Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, fearing this could destabilise the wider region.

"The question of whether an operation is made must be left to the political and military experts," said Gul, stressing the need for a "cool-headed" approach to fighting terrorism.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Tuesday in Brussels he saw a reduced risk of a major Turkish incursion because of improved cooperation between Ankara and Washington.

Also on Tuesday, two senior U.S. generals visited Ankara to discuss intelligence sharing with Turkey’s military.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was due to discuss the northern Iraq situation on Wednesday with General Yasar Buyukanit, head of Turkey’s poweful military General Staff.

Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. The United States and European Union, like Turkey, consider it a terrorist group.

(Reporting by Gareth Jones, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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