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Turkey concludes ground operation in northern Iraq -2

(Recasts headline, lead, updates losses on both sides, adds General Staff comments in paragraphs 3-9)

ANKARA, February 29 (RIA Novosti) - The Turkish Army has ended a major ground offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, the General Staff said on Friday.

Turkey launched a large-scale ground operation targeting militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the north of Iraq on February 21, with more than 10,000 troops pushing some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Iraq.

"Turkish Army units returned to their permanent bases on the morning of February 29," the General Staff said in a statement posted on its website.

It also said Turkey had taken the decision to start and end the operation independently, without any outside pressure. It added that the Turkish Army had killed 240 rebels during the eight-day operation and had lost 27 servicemen.

The General Staff acknowledged that the PKK had not been eliminated as a result of the operation, however.

"At the same time, it has been shown to the group that the north of Iraq is not a safe heaven for terrorists," it said.

The General Staff also pledged it would continue monitoring PKK activity in Iraq and would "not allow it to threaten Turkey from this area."

"The fight against terrorism will continue both in and outside Turkey," it said.

Iraq welcomed the end of the Turkish operation, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari saying it was the "right thing to do." Iraq had earlier criticized the incursion, calling it a violation of its sovereignty.

The Turkish parliament gave the government a mandate last October to conduct cross-border operations in northern Iraq against about 3,500 PKK militants based in the region.

The PKK, listed by the U.S., NATO and the EU as a terrorist organization, has been fighting for autonomy status in southeast Turkey for nearly 25 years. The conflict has so far claimed about 40,000 lives.

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