By Wisam Mohammed
BAGHDAD, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Turkey should respect Iraq’s borders and avoid military confrontation, Iraq’s prime minister was quoted as saying early on Friday, hours after Kurdish officials said Turkey had shelled northern Iraq.
The Turkish military bombed Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq on Thursday, the officials said, days after Ankara said it was weighing a ground operation against the guerrillas.
In a phone call to his Turkish counterpart, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan that Iraq considered the rebels a threat to their shared border, but urged dialogue to promote security.
"Maliki asked Erdogan to respect the sovereignty of Iraq’s borders and inviolability of its lands... and stressed the importance of avoiding a military solution," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its frontier with Iraq and has carried out several small-scale cross-border commando operations and aerial bombing raids against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
"Maliki also said the Iraqi government supports the security and stability of Turkey and considers the PKK a terrorist organisation that represents a threat to Turkey and the border areas between the two countries," Dabbagh continued.
A spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces Jabbar Yawar on Thursday said the Turkish military had shelled several Kurdish rebel positions in a remote mountainous area.
Turkish planes then later staged attacks near Amadiya, close to the Turkish border in Dahuk province, for three hours but it was not clear what the targets were. Yawar said no casualties were reported.
A senior Iraqi border official said Turkish troops tried to move tanks from a base in northern Iraq, but Peshmerga forces had told them to stay in the compound.
Turkey has kept small contingents of troops at several bases in northern Iraq since offensives in the 1990s.
NATO member Turkey says it has the right under international law to hit PKK rebels who take shelter in northern Iraq and have mounted attacks inside Turkey that have killed scores of troops in recent months. (Writing by Mohammed Abbas in Baghdad; Editing by Michael Winfrey)