CUKURCA, Turkey - Turkish warplanes, helicopters, and artillery bombed suspected hide-outs of Kurdish rebels in remote, mountainous terrain of northern Iraq yesterday, inflicting heavy casualties, the military said.
Officials said 79 rebels and seven Turkish soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Turkey launched a ground offensive late Thursday, including 35 Kurdish rebels and two soldiers who died in yesterday's fighting.
The rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, said it had killed a total of 15 Turkish troops. It declined to comment on rebel casualties.
Turkey's state-run news agency, Anatolia, said warplanes bombed suspected rebel bases in the Qandil mountain range, near the border between Iraq and Iran. The military said it struck several rebel hide-outs, which included stores of ammunition and explosives.
The Iraqi government said yesterday that fewer than 1,000 Turkish troops had crossed the frontier. A senior Turkish military source told Reuters two brigades made up of about 8,000 troops were taking part in the operation. Turkish media have put the number of troops at 10,000.
Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, warned that the Kurdish government would not stand by if the Turks struck civilians.
"The regional government of Kurdistan will not be a part of the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK fighters. But at the same time, we stress that if the Turkish military targets any Kurdish civilian citizens or any civilian structures, then we will order a large-scale resistance," he said in a statement.
Tariq Jawhar, a spokesman for the National Assembly of Kurdistan, a regional body, called on the US and Iraqi leadership to intervene and stop the Turkish operations.
"We want the Iraqi federal government and the US to . . . work hard to stop this aggression and to seek peaceful negotiation to solve the problem," he said. "Such military operations are considered a clear violation of the federal Iraqi territory."
Iraq's government also criticized the offensive yesterday, saying military force will not solve the Kurdish problem. "We know the threats that Turkey is facing but military operations will not solve the PKK problem. Turkey has resorted to military options, but this never resulted in a good thing," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
Iraq's Oil Ministry ruled out halting oil exports through Turkey because of the military operations. A pipeline that runs into Turkey was often halted in past years due to sabotage, but is now pumping more than 300,000 barrels per day.
"Turkish military operations will not affect pumping oil through this pipeline as both Iraqi and Turkish governments are keen not to halt it," said Assem Jihad, a ministry spokesman.
The rebels are fighting for autonomy in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and have carried out attacks on Turkish targets from bases in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The conflict started in 1984 and has claimed as many as 40,000 lives.
The ground incursion is the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Turkey has assured the US-backed Iraqi government that the operation would be limited to attacks on rebels. The United States and European Union consider the PKK a terrorist group.
The PKK said it had recovered the bodies of the 15 Turkish troops that it said were killed in yesterday's clashes, the pro-Kurdish news agency Firat reported. It was not possible to independently confirm the conflicting casualty tolls.
Coffins of some soldiers killed in Iraq, draped in red and white Turkish flags, were flown home.
Helicopters used to transport soldiers and two Super Cobra attack helicopters few yesterday toward the border from the town of Cukurca, the closest point on the Turkish side to the combat area.
West of Cukurca, soldiers in Besta swept roads for land mines. Dozens of troops carrying assault rifles, light mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sleeping mats patrolled near mountains with snow-covered peaks.
Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said Turkish commanders had assured Iraq that the "operation will be a limited one and it will not violate certain standards that they have set."
Dabbagh said Iraq's president and prime minister had spoken to Turkish officials.
Turkey staged about two dozen attacks in Iraq during the rule of Hussein. Results were mixed; rebels suffered combat losses but regrouped after Turkish forces withdrew.
Turkey's government has said that Iraqi and US authorities have not been doing enough to stop guerrilla operations.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan of Turkey reiterated yesterday that the PKK was the sole target of the northern Iraq offensive. The General Staff said, "The operation will end once our targets have been reached."