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Sunday, November 9, 1997 Published at 12:47 GMT

Despatches: Europe
Chris Morris
From Ankara

There's been a day of heavy fighting in northern Iraq between rival Kurdish factions, with allegations that the Turkish armed forces are closely involved as well. One of the Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP, says it has launched an offensive to recapture territory taken last month by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The PUK says Turkish troops and tanks are fighting alongside the KDP. The Iraqi government lost control of the north of the country after the end of the Gulf war in 1991 and there have been intermittent clashes between the Kurdish groups ever since. Chris Morris reports from Ankara:

"It was only a matter of time before fighting broke out again in northern Iraq. Having seized an important stretch of territory last month, the PUK was in no mood to give it back. So the KDP has resorted to force once again, deploying up to ten thousand fighters along a broad front east of the city of Erbil. Both sides speak of fierce clashes but there are conflicting reports about whether the KDP has gained any significant ground. The most controversial aspect of the offensive is the alleged involvement of the Turkish armed forces. The PUK says there have been several air raids against its positions and Turkish troops and tanks are fighting alongside the KDP deep inside Iraq. Turkey admits that it has begun a military operation in Iraqi territory but it insists the target is the Turkish Kurd guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. Turkey's protestations of innocence are growing increasingly difficult to believe though. One Iraqi opposition group which has good contacts in the north of the country says Turkish troops moved further into Iraqi territory than at any time since 1921. The Turkish presence is causing concern throughout the region. Both Syria and Iran have demanded that Turkey withdraw immediately. The Turkish government's western allies have been prepared to give Ankara the benefit of the doubt during its previous forays across the border because they've been regarded as hot pursuit missions against the PKK. But if the Turks are now directly involved in fighting on the ground between the Iraqi Kurds that would be a clear violation of international law. It would also seem to mark the end of what's called the Ankara peace process, in which the United States, Britain and Turkey have been trying to mediate between the warring factions."

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