by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, June 23 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's major cross-border operation in northern Iraq aims to secure a new military ground and eliminate risks posed by Kurdish rebels at root as part of a recent strategy, military analysts said.
The Turkish armed forces launched last week air and land operations to strike the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has hideouts in northern parts of neighboring Iraq.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said earlier that Turkey has hit so far over 700 targets as part of its Claw-Tiger operation, the largest in recent years, with commando troops carried by helicopters into the mountainous Haftanin region.
The operation was initiated a few days after Operation Claw-Eagle, a major bombing campaign against PKK camps in northern Iraq, where "terrorist elements" are reported to have set up bases in the early 1990s.
Turkish forces attacked Sinjar, the Qandil mountains, Zap and Hakurk with aerial and ground operations involving F-16 fighter jets, missile launchers, heavy artillery and special forces.
The Turkish army has in the past launched many military operations targeting PKK hideouts and bases in northern Iraq, where the Kurds carried out attacks against security forces in Turkey.
Erol Bural, a Turkish military analyst and former army officer, said that the main task of Turkish forces was to eliminate the security threat in northern Iraq and cut their supply lines and roads, so that PKK rebels would not pose a danger to Turkey.
Ankara has over the years significantly deepened its ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controlling northern Iraq.
The KRG, which is tacitly endorsing Turkey's frequent airstrikes against PKK hideouts, according to observers, benefits from important Turkish investments and border trade.
Reacting to reports that Turkey plans to build more military bases in the region after its current operation, Bural remarked it may be possible in order to expand Turkey's footprint there and to maintain Turkey's border security.
Turkey has around 10 temporary bases in northern Iraq since 1995.
Metehan Demir, a security analyst, said that Turkey has modified in recent years its strategy against the PKK, adopting a more proactive approach and striking the rebels before they infiltrate into Turkey to target security forces.
"The plan is to strike first and eliminate the terrorist threat at its root. The latest offensives and incursions in northern Iraq are part of this new strategy," he said in televised remarks.
Demir argued that with this fresh offensive in Iraq, Turkey would be able to concentrate more on Syria and Libya, two other conflict arenas where Turkey has also deployed troops and equipment.
"This operation should not only be considered as a simple cross-border operation," noted Demir, pointing out that it should be seen as part of Ankara's effort to build a long security corridor extending from the Iranian border to Syria.
The incursions launched in Iraq in the last few years have caused major losses in PKK ranks, according to Turkish officials.
The movement which had around 4,000 militants a few years ago, now has around 400 militants and many commanders have been killed in recent years, said Bural.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has been rebelling against the Turkish government for over 30 years, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people.
Meanwhile, Turkey's latest operation has drawn anger from Baghdad and Iraq's Arab allies, who are critical to Turkey's broader regional ambitions.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned twice the Turkish ambassador to Iraq, accusing the operation as "violations of Iraqi sovereignty by bombing and attacking within Iraq's borders."
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also condemned the operation, voicing support for Baghdad in its steps to defend its sovereignty. Enditem