Turkish aircraft attack Kurdish positions along Iraqi border

Turkey's leaders debate a possible offensive in northern Iraq. Iraq says is powerless to stop rebel activity.

October 24, 2007 18:36
3 minute read.
Turkish aircraft attack Kurdish positions along Iraqi border

turkey patrol 224.88. (photo credit: )


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Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships bombed positions of Kurdish rebels along the rugged border with Iraq on Wednesday, targeting mountain paths used by rebels to infiltrate into Turkey, the country's official Anatolia news agency said. As the military stepped up its anti-rebel operations, civilian and military leaders discussed the scope and duration of a possible cross-border offensive - a move that Turkey's Western allies are trying to prevent. Turkey's leaders face growing demands at home to stage the offensive into northern Iraq, where the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party - the PKK - rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to conduct attacks. Several F-16 warplanes loaded with bombs took off from an air base in southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday, private Dogan news agency and local reporters said. A government official confirmed on Wednesday that Turkish helicopter gunships had penetrated into Iraqi territory on Sunday and that troops have shelled suspected Kurdish rebel positions across the border in Iraq. US-made Cobra and Super Cobra attack helicopters chased Kurdish rebels some 5 kilometers (3 miles) into Iraqi territory on Sunday but returned to their bases in Turkey after a rebel ambush killed 12 soldiers near the border, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He also said Turkish artillery units shelled rebel positions as recently as Tuesday night but did not say which areas were targeted and refused to give further information. Turkey, which has moved troops to the Iraq border, warned Iraq and Western allies on Tuesday that a Turkish incursion is imminent unless the US-backed government in Baghdad takes action, and said there would be no cease-fire with the separatist fighters. Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of Turkey's military, canceled a visit to Israel planned for the end of this month, private CNN-Turk television reported Wednesday. A high-level delegation from Iraq was expected to visit Ankara on Thursday. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, returning late Tuesday from Baghdad, said, "We said that we are expecting them to come with concrete proposals and otherwise the visit will have no meaning." A senior government official said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had told Babacan during Tuesday's meeting in Baghdad that Iraq "does not exclude extradition" of Kurdish rebels. Babacan responded to Talabani that the issue was urgent, the official said anonymously because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Turkey has long pressed Iraq to capture and extradite rebel leaders to Turkey. Turkey's Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen said Wednesday that Turkey could impose economic sanctions against northern Iraq to force the Iraqi Kurdish administration to cooperate with Turkey, Anatolia news agency reported. Turkey provides electricity to northern Iraq, and most of the food sold in markets in northern Iraq comes from Turkey. The United States issued its most direct demand yet for anti-rebel measures from Iraqi Kurds who hold effective autonomy over territory where Turkish Kurd guerrillas have camps. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the closure of all offices belonging to the PKK in Iraq and said they would not be allowed to operate in Iraqi territory. "We need more than words," Babacan said. "We said that preventing the PKK from using the Iraqi soil, an end to logistical support and all PKK activities inside Iraq and closing of its camps are needed. We also said its leaders need to be arrested and extradited to Turkey." Iraq's parliament speaker on Wednesday said his country cannot control the activities of Kurdish rebels but pledged to end any logistic support to the guerrilla group and seek a peaceful solution for the current standoff with Turkey. "When the Iraqi government becomes capable of controlling Baghdad's security, then the others can ask us to control the borders," Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani told reporters in Damascus. During the funerals Tuesday of 12 soldiers slain in the weekend ambush, tens of thousands of mourners chanted slogans urging the government to order an incursion. Adding to the tensions is the alleged capture of eight Turkish soldiers who have been missing since Sunday's ambush. Several newspapers printed pictures showing eight missing soldiers - allegedly hostages in the hands of separatist rebels. Turkey seems willing to refrain from a major cross-border action until at least early next month, when it is scheduled to host foreign ministers for a meeting about Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed a meeting among the United States, Iraq and Turkey during the Nov. 2-3 conference in Istanbul. Almost immediately afterward, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to go to Washington to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush. The Turkish leader is likely to reiterate demands that the U.S.-backed government in Iraq take steps to close off supply lines to the PKK and take other measures to reduce the group's effectiveness, possibly including military action.

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