All Turkish troops involved in a major ground offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels inside northern Iraq have withdrawn to Turkey, Iraq's foreign minister told Reuters on Friday.
Turkey sent thousands of troops into remote, mountainous northern Iraq on February 21 to crush rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who use the region as a base for attacks on Turkish territory. Washington feared the incursion could destabilise an area of relative stability in Iraq.
"All the Turkish troops have withdrawn and gone back to the Turkish side of the international border. We welcome this, we think this is the right thing for Turkey to do," Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zabari said.
Earlier, a senior Turkish military source said some troops had returned to bases in Turkey after completing their mission, but that no full withdrawal had begun.
A US official in Baghdad told Reuters: "We are seeing a limited portion of the troops that had entered Iraq moving back toward Turkey. (It's) too early to call this a withdrawal."
Turkey's political and military leaders have said the operation will continue for as long as necessary but have come under pressure from the United States, their Nato ally, to keep the campaign as short and carefully targeted as possible.
On Thursday, US President George W. Bush urged Turkey to end the land offensive swiftly.
Washington, like Ankara and the EU, brands the PKK a terrorist organisation, and has been supplying intelligence to the Turkish military on the PKK in Iraq. But it fears that a prolonged campaign could stoke regional instability.
Turkey's military says it has killed 237 rebels in the eight-day ground offensive and suffered the loss of 24 soldiers. The PKK says it has killed more than 100 Turkish troops but has not given a figure for its own casualties. (Reuters)