Hundreds of Turkish troops cross into Iraq
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey sent hundreds of elite troops into northern Iraq yesterday to chase Kurdish guerrillas in an operation that could increase tensions within the region.
The soldiers killed four rebels escaping after a failed attack on a Turkish unit near the border, the Turkish military said. It did not say when the troops, who were supported by Turkish warplanes, would withdraw. But private NTV television, without citing any sources, said the soldiers were on their way back to Turkey.
The military has repeatedly staged air and ground assaults against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq. The last major incursion was in February 2008, when thousands of ground forces staged a weeklong offensive into Iraq that worried Iraqi Kurds.
Iraqi Kurds have been cooperating with Turkey in its fight against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, sharing intelligence on the guerrillas’ movements and positions. However, the latest incursion could trigger protests from Baghdad and the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region.
The incursion comes as the rebels have stepped up attacks in Turkey, killing more than 30 soldiers in recent months and causing public outrage.
The conflict has killed some 40,000 people since it began in 1984. Many PKK guerrillas shelter in the mountains of neighboring Iraq, crossing the border for hit-and-run assaults. The group is considered a terrorist organization by both the European Union and United States.
The public fury and escalating military response threaten to derail an already faltering government effort to defuse the insurgency by granting unprecedented cultural and political freedoms to Turkey’s Kurds, the country’s largest minority group.
The military said on its website that three commando companies and one special forces battalion penetrated 2 miles into Iraq in the incursion.
Turkish warplanes also pounded Kurdish rebel positions and mortar and antiaircraft units deeper inside Iraqi territory yesterday, the military said.