Turkish copters fire on Iraq sites
Kurd guerrillas targeted in raids
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - Turkish helicopters swooped into Iraqi territory yesterday, Iraqi officials said, firing on villages in renewed pressure to dislodge Turkish Kurd guerrillas from bases in northern Iraq used to stage cross-border raids.
The helicopter attack was the first major Turkish action against the rebels since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey met with President Bush in Washington on Nov. 5. Turkey has demanded that the United States and Iraq crack down on guerrillas operating from Iraq and has massed tens of thousands of soldiers along the border with Iraq.
The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey, a NATO member, to avoid a large-scale attack on rebel bases in northern Iraq, fearing such an operation would destabilize what has been the calmest region in the country.
A spokesman for the Iraqi Kurd regional administration, Jamal Abdullah, denied the helicopter attack report but said two Turkish warplanes dropped flares in mountains near the Iraqi town of Zakhu.
But Colonel Hussein Tamir, an Iraqi Army officer who supervises border guards, said the Turkish helicopters opened fire before dawn on abandoned villages northeast of Zakhu, an Iraqi Kurd town near the border with Turkey. There were no casualties, he said.
A Turkish government official confirmed the helicopter raids and said they were directed at suspected hideouts of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy for Turkish Kurds since 1984 in a conflict that has killed nearly 40,000 people. The official said more raids could be expected within a few days. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
A PKK spokesman corroborated accounts of the air strikes, and said clashes had been taking place inside Turkey since late Monday. He also spoke on condition of anonymity.
An all-out cross-border incursion could be politically damaging for the Turks, who are also seeking membership in the European Union. But an upsurge of rebel attacks has outraged the Turkish public, increasing pressure on Erdogan to show resolve. Time for any ground incursion is running out, however, with the approach of the harsh winter in the region.
More than 50 Turkish troops have been killed in a series of hit-and-run attacks by Kurdish rebels since late September.
In the latest attack, four Turkish soldiers were killed yesterday in a clash with rebels near the Turkish city of Sirnak, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said.
Despite US pressure against a ground incursion, American authorities have agreed to share intelligence with Turkey about Kurdish rebel positions, enabling the Turkish military to carry out limited assaults.
"The United States has declared the PKK as the common enemy. The struggle against this enemy will be maintained until it is eliminated," Erdogan told lawmakers in Parliament yesterday.
Air raids conducted with the help of newly provided US intelligence could help Turkey chip away at rebel strength and show an angry public that it is taking strong measures to defeat the rebels.
Meanwhile, three US soldiers were killed in attacks north of Baghdad, the military said today. Two soldiers died yesterday in an explosion in Diyala province, the US military said in a statement, adding that another soldier was killed by gunfire today while providing security during a training mission for police near Mosul.