DIYARBAKIR, Turkey - Turkish warplanes and artillery pounded Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq for a second night, hours after the rebels mounted attacks on security forces in southeastern Turkey.
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The Turkish raids, the first against rebels holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq in more than a year, mark a stark escalation of the 27-year-old conflict after the collapse of efforts towards a negotiated settlement.
Late on Friday a Reuters witness said 10 warplanes took off from an airbase in southeastern Turkey in what appeared to herald a third night of strikes against Kurdish guerrillas.
There was no immediate confirmation by the Turkish military, which earlier said warplanes had attacked 28 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Thursday in the areas of Qandil mountain, Hakurk, Avasin-Basyan and Zap.
"In coordination with the air operation, intense artillery fire was directed at 96 targets identified in the same areas," the General Staff said in a statement. "Activities in the fight against terrorism will continue decisively at home and abroad."
The military released cockpit footage showing blasts and billowing smoke
as laser-guided missiles slammed into targets described as PKK
shelters, stores and anti-aircraft sites during raids which drew
criticism from Baghdad.
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi condemned the strikes,
telling Reuters: "Our position is clear. We reject violations and
overstepping of borders. This issue cannot be resolved through military
"Iraq should have been informed about this to find other ways to resolve this escalation," he said.
Turkey launched the attacks on rebels in response to a spate of rebel
attacks in recent months and an ambush on Wednesday that killed nine
servicemen. The PKK in Iraq said none of its people were hurt.
"There were no PKK casualties in the shelling that continued last night," PKK spokesman Roj Welat told Reuters.
On Thursday night the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the
United States and the European Union, carried out simultaneous attacks
in Turkey's southeastern Siirt province.
Rebels besieged a paramilitary gendarmerie post in Eruh, with rocket
launchers and rifles, killing two officers and wounding four soldiers.
Two PKK fighters were killed in subsequent clashes, security sources
In the nearby district of Pervari, rebels wounded four civilians during similar attacks on security installations.
The guerrillas also clashed with troops in eastern Tunceli province and one PKK militant was killed, sources said.Further military action is expected
Some 40 Turkish security personnel have been killed in clashes in the
last month and further air action was likely for as long as fighting on
the ground continues.
"I think those deciding on the air operations will sustain them
intermittently for as long as appropriate opportunities emerge," Nihat
Ali Ozcan, a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, told
"At times like this governments have to manage not just terrorism but
their own public opinion. Hence air operations, more than harming the
PKK militarily, serve the government in managing public opinion," Ozcan
It was not clear whether the air assaults might be a prelude to an
incursion by land forces, which Turkey has sent into northern Iraq in
the past to tackle PKK fighters.
World diplomatic attention has been focused on unrest in Turkey's
neighbor Syria and in Libya, where rebels are closing on leader Muammar
Gaddafi's stronghold in Tripoli. But a major Turkish incursion in
northern Iraq could inflame ethnic tensions.
Ozcan said a short ground operation with limited targets was feasible if
the government could convince the United States and the Kurdish
administration in northern Iraq on the issue, but such a move was seen
The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, which has enjoyed semi-autonomy
from the central Iraqi government since 1991, said the military attacks
undermined its sovereignty.
"Problems cannot be resolved by resorting to force and military action,
but only through dialogue and negotiations," Kawa Mahmoud, a Kurdistan
government spokesman, said in a statement on the KRG website.
The Kurdish conflict also raises domestic passions in Turkey. Further
legal action could be taken against Kurdish politicians, currently
boycotting parliament and accused of close links to the PKK.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) called for a bilateral
ceasefire by the PKK and state and said the government would be to blame
for further violence if it failed to advance reforms sought by the
12-million-strong Kurdish minority.
"[Turkish] Prime Minister (Tayyip) Erdogan will be personally
responsible for each and every death from this moment on, if the
government fails to take up this agenda despite the BDP's calls for a
peaceful solution," senior BDP deputy Selahattin Demirtas told a news
conference in Istanbul.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in 1984.