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Kurdish officials say Turkish troops that had entered Iraq have withdrawn

    KIRKUK, Iraq — Turkey sent hundreds of troops about 1 1/2 miles into northern Iraq early Tuesday in an operation against Kurdish rebels but then withdrew them later in the day, Kurdish officials said.
    Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the regional Kurdistan government, told The Associated Press that the 300 Turkish troops had withdrawn about 15 hours after entering Iraq about 3 a.m.
    Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga security forces in Irbil, Iraq, told the AP that ‘‘today’s Turkish military operation was a limited one, and the troops withdrew from Iraqi territory.’’
    Turkish officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the withdrawal.
    The Iraqi government had called the incursion an unacceptable action that would lead to ‘‘complicated problems.’’
    The incursion came after U.S. officials said they provided Turkish officials with intelligence for airstrikes Sunday in northern Iraq against rebel positions, but also asked them to limit their operations.
    The incursion of about 300 troops — the first confirmed Turkish ground operation inside Iraq since the U.S. invasion of Iraq — did not represent a large-scale push that some feared could destabilize a relatively calm part of Iraq. In November, the Turkish military reportedly has massed 100,000 troops along the border.
    Yawar said the Turkish forces crossed into an area near the border with Iran, about 75 miles north of the city of Irbil. Abdullah described the region as a deserted mountainous frontier area.
    The Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, has battled for autonomy for southeastern Turkey for more than two decades and uses strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes.
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Baghdad, said the U.S., Iraq and Turkey have a ‘‘common interest’’ in stopping Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, but she cautioned against action that could destabilize the region.
    ‘‘This is a circumstance in which the U.S. has constantly counseled that we need an overall comprehensive approach to this problem and that no one should do anything that threatens to destabilize the north,’’ she said.
    Washington is trying to balance support for two key allies: the Turkish government and the Iraqi Kurds. The U.S. remains opposed to any major Turkish military operation into northern Iraq — which could disrupt one of the calmest areas of Iraq.
    It was not clear how long the Turkish soldiers who entered Iraq on Tuesday would stay, but a Turkish government official in a position to know about the operation said they were sent as ‘‘reinforcements’’ to existing Turkish troops stationed further inside Iraq.
    ‘‘They are going there as reinforcements, they are not returning,’’ the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
    About 1,200 Turkish military monitors have operated in northern Iraq since 1996 with permission from local authorities. A tank battalion has been stationed at a former airport at the border town of Bamerni and a few other military outposts were scattered in the region. Ankara rotates the troops there.
    Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the incursion ‘‘is not acceptable and will lead to complicated problems.’’
    ‘‘Iraq understands the threat the PKK represents, one that endangers Turkish security. But Iraq rejects any Turkish interference in Iraq,’’ he said, adding that the Iraqi government was given no warning about the incursion.
    Asked about a reported clash between the Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels inside Iraq, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said: ‘‘From now on, whatever is necessary in the struggle against terrorism, it is being done.’’
    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said his country had no intention of violating Iraq’s territorial integrity or harming civilians, ‘‘but the PKK terrorist organization’s camps there are terrorist camps, they are our enemy.’’
    ‘‘They threaten our national unity and we are using our rights stemming from international laws to defend ourselves against this threat,’’ Erdogan said.
    ‘‘We are taking all means that are available to us — be they political, diplomatic, military, social or economic — and are using them,’’ he said. ‘‘At the moment the army is doing whatever is necessary. Our armed forces will continue to do whatever is necessary.’’
    Abdullah, the spokesman for the regional Kurdish government, was critical of the operation.
    ‘‘We are against any Turkish incursion inside Iraqi territory. This is regarded as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t expect that problems between Turkey and the PKK rebels will be solved by a military operation.’’
    In Sunday’s airstrikes, as many as 50 fighter jets were involved in the attack, the biggest against the PKK in years. An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman. The rebels said two civilians and five rebels died.
    Iraq’s parliament on Monday condemned the airstrike, calling it an ‘‘outrageous’’ violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Turkey said Sunday’s attack used U.S. intelligence and was carried out with tacit American approval.
    The incursion began hours before Rice arrived in Kirkuk, a city that Iraq’s Kurds call their Jerusalem in the oil-rich territory claimed by many. She met members of a civilian-military reconstruction unit and provincial politicians before flying to Baghdad.
    Sunni Arabs ended a yearlong political boycott earlier this month in Kirkuk — the hub of Iraq’s northern oil fields — under a deal that sets aside government posts for Arabs. It was the biggest step yet toward unity before a referendum on the area’s future.
    Kirkuk is an especially coveted city for both the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish one in Irbil. Kurds want to incorporate it into their self-rule area, but the idea has met stiff resistance from Arabs and a constitutionally required referendum on the issue was delayed to next year.
    In an unrelated overnight raid, about 250 Iraqi police raided three villages near Hawija, 30 miles south west of Kirkuk and 150 miles north of Baghdad in an operation against suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants, said provincial police chief Brig. Sarhat Qadir.
    In a six-hour raid that began at 1 a.m., the police detained 12 al-Qaida in Iraq suspects as well as another eight people, and seized a large weapons cache that included 2,500 mortar rounds, 350 Katyusha rockets, about 150 improvised bombs and about 500 mines, Qadir said.
    Also on Tuesday, at least 11 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up north of Baghdad, police said.
    A man wearing a suicide belt entered a popular cafe in Abbara village, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
    In addition to those killed, at least 18 others were wounded as they sipped on soda and tea when the bomber struck shortly after 7 p.m.
    Just six miles to the south in central Baqouba, a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a police checkpoint, killing two and wounding 15 others, police said.
    Both attacks took place in turbulent Diyala province, which despite the nationwide decrease in violence of nearly 60 percent in the last six months, has seen insurgent activity continue.
    In central Baghdad, a parked car bomb targeting a police patrol went off, killing four people and wounding seven others, police said.
    An officer speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said two police officers and two civilians were among those killed.
    ———
    Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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