Turkish military fires on Kurdish rebels inside Iraq

Turkish military says only PKK its target; not Iraqis. US army says its unaware of incursion into northern border.

turkey kurds 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
turkey kurds 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Turkish military has said it fired on a group of 50 to 60 Kurdish rebels inside Iraqi territory, inflicting "significant losses." It did not say whether Turkish troops had crossed the border into Iraq Saturday. The US military said it had no reports of a Turkish incursion across the Iraqi border. And spokesmen for the government of northern Iraq and the rebel group denied that any fighting had taken place. But late Saturday, the Turkish military said the operations target only the PKK and that "they are not against people living in Iraq's north nor against local groups unless they commit an act of enmity against the Turkish Armed Forces." The military said Saturday's operation was the first since it had been authorized to launch a cross-border offensive, and that operations will continue "depending on intelligence gathered." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the government had granted authorization to its military to launch a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq at any time. On its web site earlier, the military said the rebels attacked Saturday were found through intelligence work. But the Turkish military did not say whether it conducted Saturday's operation with American intelligence - something President George W. Bush has promised Turkey. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said Saturday the Americans were "working hard," to deliver on that promise. Turkish military said the attack on guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, occurred "inside Iraqi borders," southeast of Cukurca, a Turkish border town in Hakkari province. Hakkari, where rebels are active, is in the southeast corner of Turkey and shares a border with Iran as well as Iraq. But the statement did not specify whether the Turks fired from the Turkish or Iraqi side of the border. "There was an intensified operation against the mentioned terrorists using fire support vehicles," the statement said. "It is observed through technical means that the terrorist group suffered significant losses as a result of the operation." The statement also said: "If necessary, there will be other operations in the region, using other means." Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency, reported that Turkish army units shelled the Dola Mir and Dola Merge areas of northern Iraq on Saturday. A Firat reporter said the areas are across the border from Cukurca. "No pinpoint operation or military movement was observed after the shelling that lasted nearly two hours," Firat said, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials. Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, denied there had been any clashes, shelling or Turkish incursion into Iraq. "There isn't any Turkish military operation inside Iraqi territory. The situation is calm," he said. A senior PKK official who refused to give his name also denied any fighting. "There aren't any clashes between us and the Turkish side inside the Iraqi territories, neither artillery bombardments nor jets shooting," he said. Turkish forces have periodically shelled suspected rebel positions across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" - limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours. Erdogan's announcement Friday followed communication in recent weeks between the military and the government concerning the scope of a possible operation against the PKK. A top general had said the military was awaiting a government directive on how to proceed against the group, which has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984. Parliament voted Oct. 17 to authorize the government to order a cross-border operation against the PKK, which seeks autonomy for the Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey. Turkey has massed tens of thousands of Turkish troops along the border with Iraq amid a series of attacks by Kurdish insurgents. But some military officials have said Turkey is more likely to stage airstrikes and raids by special forces instead of a large-scale occupation of Iraqi territory that could carry greater military and political risks. The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq, fearing such an operation would destabilize what has been the calmest region in the country. In a Nov. 5 meeting with Erdogan, Bush promised to share intelligence on the PKK with the Turkish government.