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Turkey could carry out ground operations against PKK in Iraq - foreign minister

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to launch a ground operation in Iraq if it feels threatened by developments there, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, potentially complicating a U.S.-backed offensive to drive Islamic State from the city of Mosul.

Turkey will not tolerate the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for greater Kurdish autonomy, using parts of northern Iraq as bases, Cavusoglu said.

He accused Iraq’s central government in Baghdad of “tying itself to a terrorist organisation” and said Turkey would take whatever steps necessary to protect its soldiers stationed at the Bashiqa military camp, near the northern city of Mosul.

“If there is a threat to Turkey from Iraq, we will use all our resources and rights, including a ground operation,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with the Kanal 24 TV station.

“We aren’t saying this to Iraqis alone, but to the United States and all coalition nations, to the northern Iraqi government,” he said.

Largely Sunni Muslim Turkey and the Shi’ite-dominated central government in Iraq are at loggerheads about the presence of Turkish troops at Bashiqa, and about Ankara’s demand to take part in the U.S.-backed Mosul operation.

Turkey says it has a responsibility to protect ethnic Turkmens and Sunni Arabs in the area around Mosul, once part of the Ottoman empire. It fears both PKK militants and Shi’ite militias, which the Iraqi army has relied on in the past, will be used in the campaign and stoke ethnic bloodletting.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said Baghdad does not want Turkey’s help and that the Turkish troops, tanks and artillery deployed at the Bashiqa military camp are there without his government’s authorisation. Iraq says it is a sovereign nation that can handle the Mosul operation alone.

Turkey, along with the United States and European Union, designates the PKK as a terrorist organisation. More than 40,000 people have been killed in its conflict with the Turkish state, mainly in southeast Turkey.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daren Butler