U.S. urges Turkey to limit N. Iraq offensive

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has urged Turkey to limit its military offensive in northern Iraq to “precise targeting” of Kurdish rebels and to bring the operation to a swift conclusion, officials said on Friday.

Turkey notified the United States in advance of the incursion to hunt for PKK guerrillas. The Pentagon acknowledged it recently increased intelligence-sharing with Turkey about the rebels but said Turkey planned the operation on its own.

“We were notified and we urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK, to limit the scope and duration of their operations,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters.

Turkish TV said 3,000 to 10,000 soldiers had entered Iraq, but Iraq’s foreign minister and a senior military official with coalition forces based in Baghdad said only a few hundred troops were involved.

“We have strongly urged the Turkish government to bring any ongoing operations to a swift conclusion,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

He said the U.S. government had also called on Turkey to “work with the Iraqis directly including the Kurdish regional government authorities to determine a way ahead with respect to a common enemy.”

“Ultimately what is sought is a long-term agreement that will enhance the stability and security of that border region,” Whitman said.

Stanzel said the United States agreed with Turkey that the PKK “is a terrorist organization and is an enemy of Turkey, Iraq and the United States.”

He said Turkish authorities had also informed the Iraqi government in advance about the offensive.

“As a NATO ally, we have a long-standing intelligence sharing (in) our relationship with Turkey,” Stanzel said. “That was intensified with respect to the PKK as indicated in the meetings between Prime Minister (Tayyip) Erdogan and President (George W.) Bush (last year).”

Erdogan said he had briefed Bush by telephone on Thursday on the ground offensive.

Washington wants calm in northern Iraq as U.S.-led forces battle militants and insurgents in other parts of the country nearly five years after the invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Bush has cited recent security gains in Iraq but polls show most Americans strongly oppose the war.

Turkey says it has the right under international law to hit PKK rebels who shelter in northern Iraq and have mounted attacks inside Turkey that have killed scores of troops. Turkey says some 3,000 PKK rebels are based in Iraq.

Iraq’s government, which has little sway over the mainly Kurdish north, has called for a diplomatic solution.

Additional reporting by Andrew Gray; editing by Stuart Grudgings