BAGHDAD - Iraq on Tuesday condemned Turkey's incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish guerrillas in the strongest terms so far and demanded an immediate end to what it called a violation of its sovereignty.
The Turkish troops crossed the border last Thursday to root out PKK fighters who have used mountainous northern Iraq as a base for their fight for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey since the 1990s.
"The cabinet expressed its rejection and condemnation for the Turkish military interference, which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty," the Iraqi government said in a statement released by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
"The cabinet stresses that unilateral military action is not acceptable and threatens good relations between the two neighbors."
Dabbagh said earlier on Tuesday that a Turkish envoy would meet Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and senior government leaders including Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Turkish troops, backed by warplanes and artillery, have been fighting Kurdish guerrillas at close quarters as they advance on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases.
The Turkish General Staff has said the total PKK death toll in the offensive has risen to 153, and that 17 of its own soldiers have been killed. PKK claims that 81 Turkish troops have been killed could not be verified.
Dabbagh earlier said Baghdad feared the military operation could expand if peshmergas, Kurdistan's security forces, became involved.
"We want to maintain good relations with Turkey," Dabbagh told a news conference.
"Turkey has to understand the serious situation which might develop as a result of a military mistake which might take place between the peshmergas and Turkish forces," he said.
Kurdistan's battle-hardened peshmergas have so far stayed on the sidelines during the operation. Iraqi Kurds have little sympathy for the PKK but there is widespread anger at the incursion.
So far there have been no reports of civilian casualties but residents in villages near the border say they are being targeted in Turkish air strikes and artillery barrages.
With pressure growing at home, Ankara launched the operation last week in Iraq's Kurdistan after saying Iraqi authorities had failed for years to crack down on the rebels.
Baghdad has called for a diplomatic solution to resolve the PKK problem. It says it has taken some measures to deal with the rebels but is focused on trying to stabilize the rest of Iraq.
The area, near important sources of Iraq's rich oil reserves, has been one of the few relatively stable regions since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Turkish military sources have estimated the size of the incursion at 10,000 troops. Washington has said the incursion should be as short an operation as possible.
Turkey blames the PKK, defined as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it began its armed struggle in 1984.
Turkey's deputy prime minister, Cemil Cicek, has said Turkish troops would withdraw once they had completed their mission and other Turkish officials have stressed the offensive would be limited.
Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Samia Nakhoul
© 2008 Reuters