Turks Clash with Kurdish Rebels in Iraq Turkish troops are clashing with rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK. The PKK rebels claim to have shot down a Turkish helicopter over the weekend. The Turkish military said Sunday that eight of its soldiers were killed in the mountains of northern Iraq.
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Turks Clash with Kurdish Rebels in Iraq

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Turks Clash with Kurdish Rebels in Iraq

Turks Clash with Kurdish Rebels in Iraq

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The American defense secretary, Robert Gates, is urging Turkey's military to spend as little time as possible across the border in Iraq. It's already been four days and Turkish forces continue to strike at Kurdish rebels. The Turks are striking at what they believe to be sanctuaries across the border. Yet inside the borders of Turkey itself, there is some support for these rebels, public support.

NPR's Ivan Watson is at a pro-rebel rally in southeastern Turkey in the city of Diyarbakir.

And, Ivan, what's happening where you are?

IVAN WATSON: Steve, we've got several thousand ethnic Kurds marching, so far peacefully, through the streets of Diyarbakir. They're waving portraits, many of them, of the imprisoned PKK rebel Abdullah Ocalan. They're waving victory signs and denouncing basically the Turkish state - the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him a murderer. The Turkish military incursion into neighboring Iraq against the PKK is deeply unpopular here. Many of these demonstrators here have friends or relatives in the PKK.

INSKEEP: Now, of course, Kurds are a minority within Turkey, but aren't you in a region in southeastern Turkey there where Kurds are actually the predominant group?

WATSON: They are. This is definitely the unofficial Kurdish capital. In the southeast is the area where the Kurds are predominantly settled. And this has also been the battleground for about 25 years now for this guerrilla war between the PKK and the Turkish state.

The area has gotten much more peaceful in recent years, but we still hear weekly reports of battles in southeastern Turkey between the Turkish military and Turkish police and PKK rebels.

And even as this incursion is going on into neighboring Iraq where the Turkish military is trying to, as they say, wipe out the rebel camps. There have been clashes on this side of the border here in southeastern Turkey. Two soldiers were killed in two separate clashes over the weekend here in Turkish territory.

INSKEEP: Well, Ivan, as best you can determine, what is it that these protestors, or Kurds at large, seem to want? Do they want Turkey to lay off the rebels? Do they want independence from Turkey? What are they pushing for at this moment?

WATSON: Well, this is a bit of a question and a dilemma for the Kurdish Nationalist movement in Turkey right now. There's a question of relevance. Their results in elections have dropped in recent years. And there is some question whether it's still worth fighting right now.

You have more than a dozen Kurdish Nationalist parliament members in the parliament. You have more freedoms for Kurds now. And some question, is it worth still fighting for a cause, especially with neighboring Iraq - with a semi-autonomous Kurdish entity there growing up in northern Iraq?

And the Kurdish Nationalists do seem to be fighting for relevance sometimes. What exactly are they fighting for after all of these years? And that's something that some of these protestors can't really answer for me.

Some of them want the release of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan, which the Turkish state has said is just never going to happen.

INSKEEP: Is there also some confusion about the United States, which has an ally in Turkey, but also an ally in Iraq's Kurds?

WATSON: No, Steve. I think it's been made very clear that the U.S. has given the green light for this cross-border operation and for previous Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish rebel camps. The U.S. has said that it had advance warning of the ground incursion last week. A lot of these people are saying that they feel betrayed by the U.S. That they've never done anything against U.S. troops in Iraq. Why would the U.S. side with the Turks on this? And many of them also are accusing the Iraqi Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, of making some kind of a deal with the Turks and the Americans against the PKK as well.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ivan Watson is in the ancient eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, where a demonstration is taking place in favor apparently of Kurdish rebels. Ivan, thanks very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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