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Iraq: Turkey launches new anti-PKK ground operation

Turkish President Erdogan says the action in northern Iraq will contribute to 'peace and security in the region'
A Turkish jet fighter performs during the celebration to mark Pakistan's Independence Day in Islamabad on 14 August 2017 (AFP)

Turkish forces launched a new ground and air offensive against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq on Saturday, according to officials and local media.

Turkish media said commando forces landed in the Metina region from helicopters while warplanes dropped bombs on PKK targets.

Speaking to military commanders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was determined to remove the "terrorist" presence on its southern border.

"This operation, carried out with respect for Iraq's territorial integrity, will contribute to the establishment of peace and security in the region," he said.

"There's no room for the separatist terror group in the future of Turkey, Iraq or Syria."

Turkish television showed images of paratroopers jumping from helicopters and camouflaged soldiers firing guns.

The PKK, listed as a terror group by Turkey and much of the international community, has for decades used Iraq's northern mountains as a springboard for its insurgency against the Turkish state. 

The Turkish army regularly conducts cross-border operations and air raids against PKK bases in northern Iraq.

The strikes have led to numerous civilian deaths, however, with scores of Kurdish villages being evacuated in the region.

'Operation Claw-Lightning'

Erdogan dubbed the new operation "Operation Claw-Lightning".

"We will keep on fighting until we eradicate these gangs of murderers, who cause nothing but tears and destruction," he said.

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In February, Turkey launched an operation dubbed "Claw-Eagle 2" against PKK rebels holed up in the northern Iraqi region of Dohuk.

That raid created controversy because it was designed in part to rescue 12 Turkish soldiers and an Iraqi held captive by the PKK in a cave.

Turkey accused the PKK of executing the 13 men before they could be freed, and Erdogan came under attack from opposition parties in parliament for poorly planning the offensive.

The February raid also created problems in Turkey's relations with Iran, which now has a strong political and military presence in Iraq and which treats Erdogan's regional campaigns with suspicion.

Iran's ambassador warned in February that Turkish forces should not pose a threat or violate Iraqi soil, prompting Ankara and Tehran to each summon the other's ambassador. 

The PKK insurgency against the Turkish state is believed to have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people since being launched in 1984.