ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now, an update on a story we've been following for the last couple of weeks: tensions between two nations of strategic importance to the United States - Turkey and Iraq. Those tensions have been building as Kurdish guerrillas mount increasingly deadly attacks on Turkish soldiers and civilians. Those guerrillas, known as the PKK, shelter on the Iraqi side of the border. And Turkey has been warning it may have to send troops across that border in pursuit.
Today, the Turkish Army launched a major operation against Kurdish guerrillas inside Turkey, and according to Turkish news reports, the soldiers killed at least 15 PKK fighters.
NPR's Ivan Watson is reporting on the situation today from the Iraqi side of the border. We caught up with him in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ivan, we just want to make it clear. Today's action by the Turkish military is not near the Iraqi border. What happened?
IVAN WATSON: The Turkish military has been reporting to Turkish media about a major operation. Thousands of soldiers backed by helicopter gunships operating around the town of Tunjali(ph) that is in central eastern Turkey. It's hundreds of miles from the border with Iraq. It's a Kurdish area which has traditionally been a hotbed for support for the PKK, a very turbulent area where it's not unusual to hear about battles or about Turkish soldiers being killed by landmines.
SEABROOK: Do these events have any bearing on the tensions between Turkey and Iraq?
WATSON: Well, it will probably take some of the pressure off of Iraq since much of the fighting earlier this month - which left at least 40 Turkish troops and civilians dead - was right along the border with Iraq. And it led to the belief that these were cross border raids being conducted by PKK rebels operating out of camps on the Iraqi side of the border. And that led to this crisis, with Turkey demanding immediate action against those PKK camps.
SEABROOK: Ivan let's go back to where you are in northern Iraq, which is that autonomous area for Iraqi Kurds. The Turkish government is demanding that Iraqi Kurds root out the guerillas. How are the Iraqi Kurds responding to those demands?
WATSON: Well, they have condemned PKK attacks against Turkey being conducted from Iraqi territory. At the same time, the Iraqi Kurds say they have no leverage over the PKK. They say militarily, it's impossible for the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, the Iraqi Kurdish fighters, to attack the PKK very well entrenched in difficult to reach mountains. And they also refuse to give in to Turkish demands to arrest or extradite any of the PKK rebel leaders.
SEABROOK: So what do the Iraqi Kurds think should be done?
WATSON: Well they're calling for dialogue, negotiations between Turkey and the PKK. They want the Turks to offer an amnesty to the fighters to get them to lay down their weapons and come down from the mountains. The Turks - they refuse to negotiate with a group that they called terrorist.
SEABROOK: Sounds like a nonstarter.
WATSON: Exactly. Another problem that the Iraqi Kurds complain about is that they say the Turks refuse to talk to them directly. They refuse to recognize the regional government here in Iraqi Kurdistan. And there are real fears among Iraqi Kurds that the Turks are using this campaign against the PKK as a pretext to actually launch an invasion into Iraqi Kurdistan to bring an end to this autonomous region that the Iraqi Kurds have been building.
SEABROOK: NPR's Ivan Watson in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
Thank you very much.
WATSON: You're welcome, Andrea.
SEABROOK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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