THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Turkey airstrikes target Kurdish rebels

Mourners bury soldiers, boo nation's leaders

Villagers condemned Kurdish rebels during a funeral march in Armutlu for one of 15 Turkish soldiers killed Friday. Villagers condemned Kurdish rebels during a funeral march in Armutlu for one of 15 Turkish soldiers killed Friday. (Burhan Ozbilici/ Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post / October 6, 2008
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ISTANBUL - Turkey staged retaliatory airstrikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq yesterday as thousands of Turks attended rain-lashed funerals for 15 soldiers killed by the rebels in a cross-border attack from Iraq.

Public anger mounted in Turkey at the inability of civilian leaders to stop attacks by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The group has waged a 24-year guerrilla war for greater autonomy for Turkey's minority Kurds from bases in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Mourners booed President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at funerals yesterday for two of the soldiers killed near the border with Iraq on Friday.

Demonstrators elsewhere waved the country's flag in front of Parliament and beat and burned effigies of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey's leaders increased demands yesterday for neighboring Iraq to do more against the Kurdish rebels based there.

"We have no support at all from the northern Iraqi administration," General Hasan Igsiz told reporters in Turkey's capital, Ankara. "Our expectation is that rebels be acknowledged as a terrorist organization there and that support for the rebels be eliminated."

Erdogan helped bury one soldier, shoveling silt into the man's grave in the town of Armutlu. Mourners chanted slogans against the PKK.

"There are measures to be taken against the hideouts" of rebels in northern Iraq, Erdogan said afterward. "We are expecting positive action on the ground" from Iraq, he added.

Turkish warplanes bombed suspected rebel bases in northern Iraq late yesterday, the military said in a statement.

Turkey has staged several airstrikes in northern Iraq this year. Ground troops also mounted a week-long offensive in Iraq in February. The mountain terrain, and the rebels' familiarity with the landscape, hinders the military, although the United States this year increased the sharing of intelligence to help guide Turkey in the attacks.

The deadly rebel raids pose a particular problem for Erdogan's governing Justice and Development Party, which is distrusted by the strongly secular military for its Islamist roots.

The government has tried to show itself as determined as the military in combating the rebels.

Although violence in Turkey's war with the Kurdish rebels has eased since the 1980s and 1990s, when fighting and bombs killed more than 40,000, Turkey has sustained more troop fatalities in PKK attacks this year than the US military has in violence in neighboring Iraq.

Friday's attack was the deadliest single strike by rebels against Turkey's military this year. Turkey said that Friday's fighting killed at least 23 Kurdish rebels.

Turkey's anger poses a diplomatic problem for Iraq's coalition government, which depends on Iraq's Kurds for support. Iraqi Kurds operate their own, largely autonomous government in northern Iraq, and Kurds there have shown no appetite for taking on fellow Kurds at Turkey's behest.

In a phone call to Gul on Saturday, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani - who is a Kurd - condemned the rebel attack.

Turkey's government has promised development programs in the Kurdish southeast to try to alleviate the complaints behind the rebellion.

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