Turkish warplanes bomb rebel targets in Iraq

Ankara launches second operation this month to flush out Kurdish rebels in north of country.
Turkish warplanes bomb rebel targets in Iraq
By AFP
Sun 16 Dec 2007 05:03 PM

Turkish planes bombed northern Iraq on Sunday targeting Kurdish rebels, in at least the second such operation this month even as Ankara held back from launching a ground assault.

"According to our preliminary reports, eight Turkish warplanes bombed some villages along the border near the Qandil mountains early today," said Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish militia that provides security in north Iraq.

Yawar said the air strikes damaged some bridges connecting villages near the Qandil mountains.

"Some familes are fleeing from the villages attacked today. We have dispatched our border teams to check the casualties and damage," he said.

But Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan denied that any civilian areas had been hit.

"You should trust statements made by the Turkish armed forces," Babacan said in televised remarks.

The Turkish general staff said that warplanes had hit the "regions of Zap, Hakurk and Avasin as well as the Qandil mountains".

The rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984, maintains a network of rear-bases in the rugged Qandil mountains near where the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey meet.

The rebel group itself said the strikes lasted eight hours.

"An air strike by scores of warplanes and artillery attacks took place against PKK positions," the group said in a statement on its internet site adding that the raid followed a month of reconnaissance flights by US planes.

The Turkish military said the bombardment began at 1.00am (2300 GMT) and all its aircraft had returned safely to base by 4.15am (0215 GMT). Artillery continued to pound the targets once the planes had left.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed a "successful" operation.

"Last night, the Turkish armed forces carried out a comprehensive air strike against targets of the terrorist organisation in northern Iraq," he said in a televised speech.

"I am satisfied to say that, according to our preliminary evaluations, the operation, undertaken under night conditions, was successful."

Deputy prime minister Cemil Cicek warned Turkey would carry out more cross-border strikes if necessary.

"Such operations will continue if need be," the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.

"The government, working in harmony with all state institutions, primarily the armed forces, is determined to take this scourge off the country's agenda."

The air strikes were at least the second Turkish operation against the PKK inside Iraq this month, Turkish helicopters pounded suspected rebel rear-bases on December 1.

The Turkish parliament gave the army authorisation to launch cross-border operations in October but Ankara has so far held back from any ground assault amid strong lobbying by Washington.

The vote by MPs followed a PKK ambush against Turkish troops in which 12 soldiers were killed and eight captured. The captives were released in November.

The US has expressed concern that any ground incursion might unsettle the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq which is the most stable area of the country.

But Turkey has warned Iraq that it reserves the right to resort to a ground assault.

In recent weeks Turkey has deployed around 100,000 soldiers along its 380-kilometre border with Iraq.

Baghdad has promised to rein in the PKK, and in early November President George W. Bush said Washington would provide Ankara with "real-time" information on rebel movements from its satellites.

The US, like the EU, blacklists the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

More than 37,000 people have been killed since the rebels took up arms against Ankara in 1984, drawing a scorched earth response from the military in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Kurds straddle the borders between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey and form significant minorities in all four countries.

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