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First, one important American ally in the Mideast, Turkey, has just invaded the one country the U.S. is trying most to help right now: Iraq. It was a brief incursion. The Turks now say they've withdrawn. They sent a few hundred soldiers after Kurdish separatist guerillas known as the PKK. The guerillas have camps and mountains on the Iraqi side of the border. The U.S. says it's going to help its NATO ally, Turkey, against the PKK.
NPR's Ivan Watson is in Istanbul.
Ivan, what is the latest there?
IVAN WATSON: Well, Alex, most of the information we're getting is coming from Kurds on the Iraqi side of the border. I just got off the phone with Fouad Hussein. He's the chief of staff for the Iraqi-Kurdistan regional government. He described some 500 Turkish soldiers crossing the border this morning, before dawn, in the so-called triangle area. That's a mountainous area where Iraq meets the borders with both Turkey and Iran.
He says those Turkish troops withdrew within the last few hours. Meanwhile, the Kurdish rebels known as the PKK, they have claimed on one of their Web sites that they ambushed these Turkish troops, killing eight of the Turkish soldiers. We haven't had any response so far from the Turkish military to this claim.
CHADWICK: Well, whether they've said anything about these casualties or not, what are they saying about this incursion, which technically it's an act of war, isn't it? I mean, you cross the border into another country, with soldiers?
WATSON: I spoke with the Turkish foreign ministry, and while they would not confirm whether or not there was a Turkish military incursion, they did point out that the Turkish parliament has voted to authorize the Turkish military to conduct any cross-border military operations necessary for battling the PKK, that this happened some time ago, actually.
And we can look at a series of incidents over the course of the last month or so where there had been reports of Turkish raids, of cross-border shelling, of even helicopter strikes across the border, and most dramatically on Sunday the Turkish military coming out and announcing that it had conducted cross-border air strikes, sending war planes across the border, bombing a number of mountains and valleys where the PKK militants have operated freely in northern Iraq for years, bombing those mountains and valleys in what was the most serious Turkish cross-border raid since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
CHADWICK: The Washington Post reports today that the U.S. military helped with those air raids, that it gave the Turkish military information from spy satellites that it has and says this is where these rebels are. Now, the U.S. in the past has been encouraging the Turks not to launch cross-border raids against the PKK, not to strike at Iraq. So what's happened? Is there a real change in U.S. policy?
WATSON: There's been a very interesting change here, Alex. And it dates back to last month, when President Bush met with the Turkish prime minister in Washington, and at that meeting he vowed to step up U.S. efforts to help Washington's NATO ally, Turkey, fight against the PKK.
Both the Turkish government and the U.S. government officially label the PKK a terrorist organization. The Turks have been pressuring the Americans for a long time to do more against the PKK presence in northern Iraq. And the U.S. pledged real-time intelligence sharing and greater cooperation. And the fact that Turkish war planes were able to cross the border deep into Iraqi territory, more than 100 miles into Iraqi territory, to conduct bombing runs that lasted for more than an hour, we're told, is evidence of this new approach between both the Turks and the Americans against the PKK.
CHADWICK: How do you read the response from the government of Iraq and the Kurdish autonomous region there? Are they really objecting strongly to Turkey doing this or they saying, well, we know that these rebels are a problem for you and go ahead?
WATSON: Absolutely, Alex. The Iraqi-Kurdistan regional government condemned the Turkish air strikes on Sunday. They've criticized the reported Turkish military incursion today. They're in a very difficult position because they're being squeezed, the Iraqi Kurds, by their close American allies and their big, sometimes hostile neighbor Turkey, to crack down on the PKK.
At the same time, the Iraqi Kurds have a lot of sympathy for the PKK. This is a Kurdish nationalist movement that has been fighting for years against a government that many Kurds see as racist and oppressive against the Kurdish minority in Turkey. So the Iraqi-Kurdish leadership is somewhat caught in the middle here.
CHADWICK: NPR's Ivan Watson from Istanbul. Ivan, thank you.
WATSON: You're welcomes, Alex.
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