Turkey strikes northern Iraq

Warplanes and artillery fire pummel targets inside Kurdish region, according to PKK spokesman.
Turkey strikes northern Iraq
Thu 06 Mar 2008 12:41 PM

Turkish warplanes and artillery fired on targets inside the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said.

If confirmed, it would be the first such strike by the Turkish military since it pulled out its troops from northern Iraq last Friday after a week-long incursion that came under fire from the government in Baghdad.

Turkish army chief Yasar Buyukanit had said on Monday that the military would launch further strikes on Kurdish rebels if need be, and rejected suggestions that last week's incursion was cut short by US pressure.

PKK spokesman Ahmed Danis said Wednesday's attacks began at 3 am (midnight GMT) and continued sporadically during the day, with the focus on the Bazger valley area of Arbil province. He said there were no casualties.

Turkish troops last month launched a wave of ground and air attacks against Kurdish rebels in the Zap area, a mountainous snow-bound region near the Turkish border, where a major PKK base and training camp is located.

Turkey claimed the offensive had dealt a serious blow to the rebel group, with at least 240 militants killed and dozens of hideouts, training camps and ammunition depots destroyed. It said 27 Turkish troops were killed.

Buyukanit told a group of journalists on Monday that the February 21-29 offensive was "a huge success."

"We needed to give them a lesson and we did," he said. "We have other lessons to give. Other operations will be conducted when necessary. This was just a phase in the fight against terrorism."

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, has been fighting for self-rule in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

Ankara estimates that there are some 4,000 PKK rebels taking refuge in Iraq's northern Kurdish area, where there has been an autonomous regional government since the early 1990s.

Turkey ended its operation last week a day after US President George W. Bush in Washington and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to Ankara, told Turkey to pull its troops back as quickly as possible.

But the Turkish army hit back at criticism from opposition parties that pressure from its Nato ally, which backed the offensive with intelligence on PKK movements, had forced it to end the operation too early.

"For the first time in our 24-year struggle against terrorism, the Turkish armed forces are being made the target of such meaningless attacks," a statement from the general staff said.

"These attacks hurt the determination of the Turkish armed forces to fight terrorism more than the traitors do," it added.

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