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Gates calls for quick end to Turkey's Iraq operation

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Turkey must limit its military operations against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq to days or a couple of weeks rather than months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) and India's Defence Minister A. K. Antony attend a meeting in New Delhi February 27, 2008. Turkey must limit its military operations against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq to days or a couple of weeks rather than months, Gates said on Wednesday. REUTERS/B Mathur

Gates, who is due to meet Turkish officials in Ankara on Thursday, said Turkey should not rely on military action alone in dealing with guerrillas in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but also find ways to improve economic and social conditions.

“It’s very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave, and to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty,” Gates told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday before leaving for Ankara.

“I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that. Not months,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iraq condemned Turkey’s incursion into northern Iraq and demanded an immediate end to what it called a violation of its sovereignty.

Thousands of Turkish troops crossed the border on Thursday in a major offensive against PKK rebels, who have been fighting for decades to create a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.

Ankara said it was forced to launch the attack after Iraqi and U.S. authorities failed to stop an estimated 3,000 PKK members from using northern Iraq as a base to stage deadly attacks against soldiers and civilians inside Turkey.

U.S. officials said Ankara had told Baghdad and Washington about the planned operation ahead of time. But since then, Gates has urged Turkey to improve its communication with Iraq and make it more consistent and continuous.

“Military activity alone will not solve this terrorist problem for Turkey,” Gates said.

“There certainly is a place for security operations but these also need to be accompanied by economic and political initiatives and to deal with some of the issues that provide a favourable local environment where the PKK can operate.

Editing by Elizabeth Piper

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