No Turkish forces have entered north Iraq, border guards and Kurdish rebels said on Tuesday, despite an eyewitness report that Turkish troops were moving through the country’s northernmost province.
The conflicting reports came as hundreds of people, mainly Turkish Kurds living in Iraq, demonstrated in support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebel group in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
A day earlier, Turkish security sources said dozens of tanks and military vehicles crossed into Iraq.
“There has been no Turkish incursion by soldiers or Turkish forces onto Iraqi soil,” said Colonel Hussein Tamer, head of the border guards for Dohuk along the border with Turkey.
Major General Ahmed Fadheleddin, who leads border guards in neighboring Arbil province, added: “Until now, there has been no incursion.”
Arbil and Dohuk are the two provinces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region that share a border with Turkey.
“Turkish forces have not entered Kurdistan’s soil,” added Ahmed Denis, spokesman for the PKK, which maintains bases in Iraq’s Kurdish region and is the target of Turkish forces.
But Fawzi Ibrahim Mohammed, 50, who lives in the town of Uri in Dohuk province, said that Turkish forces entered the village on Tuesday morning.
“At about 11:30 am (0830 GMT), a large number of Turkish forces entered our village... and they are still coming,” he said
“Until now there are no clashes between the Turkish forces and the PKK,” he said. “The PKK have no bases in the town.”
Turkish security sources said on Monday that some 20 tanks and 30 military trucks had entered Iraqi soil from Siyahkaya village, and Turkish warplanes bombed the Haftanin region.
They added that Turkish troops were sent by helicopter to Zab, and were aiming to enter Sinaht, which is close to Haftanin.
Sources described it as the busiest military activity along the border since the Turkish army launched cross-border activities last week in response to a PKK attack on Turkish forces which killed 24 soldiers in Hakkari, bordering Iraq.
The remoteness of the camps’ locations and the tricky terrain made it difficult to assess how close the Turkish forces had moved towards the camps.
About 300 people, many of them Turkish Kurds living in Iraq, demonstrated against the Turkish attacks on Tuesday in Arbil, an AFP journalist reported.
They carried pictures of people who they said had been killed by Turkish forces, and PKK flags.
Some 10,000 troops on the ground were believed to be involved in Turkey’s operations, backed by jets and helicopters, inside Turkey and across the border. Military officials did not say how many soldiers had entered Iraq.
Ankara’s reaction to one of the deadliest attacks on its security forces in a conflict that began three decades ago had fuelled speculation that Turkey could move to a full-blown incursion to clear out PKK camps deeper inside northern Iraq.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 1984. The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms for Kurdish independence in southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.
Turkey’s last ground incursion into northern Iraq, an autonomous Kurdish region, was in February 2008, when the army struck against the Zab region.