Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian & The Herald Sun – 2007-12-17 19:51:38
Turkey Launches Biggest Bombing Raid
On Kurdish Rebels in Iraq
Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (December 17, 2007) — Turkey yesterday launched the biggest attack on Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, sending more than 50 warplanes to bomb suspected Kurdish insurgent bases inside Iraqi territory, accompanied by long-range artillery shelling. Kurdish officials reported at least one civilian fatality, a woman, and two others injured.
The strike, carried out in the middle of the night, sent hundreds of families fleeing and added to the volatility of a region once considered Iraq’s most peaceful but now threatened with the prospect of a major showdown between Turkish forces and the PKK Kurdish rebels.
The bombardment targeted villages up to 60 miles from the Turkish border. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the attack had been a success and held out the prospect of more military action to come. “Our struggle will continue inside and outside Turkey with the same determination,” he said.
The Turkish military claimed terrorist headquarters had been hit but local officials said the rebels had dispersed in recent weeks in anticipation of the strikes and that villages, not bases, had been hit. Until now, the military, which has thousands of troops massed along the border, has restricted itself to short “hot pursuit” cross-border raids and artillery fire.
The head of Turkey’s military said last night it had US approval for the air strikes. “America last night opened Iraqi airspace to us. By opening Iraqi airspace to us last night America gave its approval to the operation,” the Anatolian state news agency quoted General Yasar Buyukanit as saying.
But a US official said: “We have not approved any decision. It is not for us to approve. However, we were informed before the event (the air strikes).”
At a meeting in Washington George Bush persuaded Erdogan to put off a full-scale land invasion of northern Iraq. In return, the US agreed to accept limited cross-border strikes and to provide US intelligence on Kurdish rebel movements. But Turkey still has tens of thousands of troops massed along the mountainous border with northern Iraq, along with tanks and artillery.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Cemil Cicek, refused to say yesterday whether the US, with its powerful satellite surveillance, had provided the intelligence that resulted in yesterday’s air strikes.
Like Erdogan, he hinted that Turkey, a member of Nato, would press ahead with operations against rebel bases in northern Iraq “with determination when necessary”. Both Turkey and the US classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation and Bush and Erdogan last month described it as “a common enemy”. It has carried out a series of attacks inside Turkey as part of a campaign for autonomy for the huge Kurdish population in eastern Turkey.
The planes hit targets inside Iraq close to the Turkish border, as well as positions in the Qandil mountains roughly 60 miles from the border.
Abdullah Ibrahim, a senior official in Sangasar, in the Iraqi Kurdish region, said Turkish warplanes bombarded 10 Kurdish villages, killing one woman and injuring two others.
He acknowledged there were Kurdish rebel bases in the area but said they were far from the villages that were hit. “The villagers are now scared and are hiding in nearby caves. They lost all their properties,” Ibrahim said.
The leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish region have mixed feelings about the PKK, torn between fears of a full-scale Turkish invasion and a reluctance to turn on fellow Kurds.
This was reflected in the relatively moderate response of a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government, Jamal Abdullah, who said: “We call on the Turkish army to differentiate between the PKK and the ordinary people. We don’t want the conflict between the Turkish troops and the PKK to turn into a conflict between the Turkish forces and the people of Kurdistan.” Turkey’s parliament authorising the government in October to attack the PKK in Iraq.
US Backed Turkish Strikes: General
From correspondents in Ankara / The Herald Sun
ANKARA (December 17, 2007) — The US backed Turkish air raids on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq overnight with intelligence and clearance to enter Iraqi airspace, Turkey’s army chief said.
“The United States gave intelligence,” General Yasar Buyukanit was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as telling the private television channel Kanal D.”But what is more important is that the United States last night opened northern Iraqi airspace to us. By doing that, the United States approved the operation,” Gen Buyukanit said.
The general’s staff announced earlier that Turkish warplanes had carried out air strikes overnight against positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in the Kurdish-run north of Iraq.
Artillery pounded the targets after the air raids, they said.
“The PKK should watch its step. It should not forget that, for us, its camps and movement in northern Iraq are like a Big Brother show,” the general said, referring to the popular reality TV show.
He said winter conditions in mountainous northern Iraq would provide no refuge for the rebels who have been waging a 23-year campaign for self-rule in Turkey’s southeast.
“The Turkish Armed Forces have given the message to the Turkish public and the world that whether it is winter or summer, we will find and hit them (PKK rebels) even if they live in caves,” Gen Buyukanit said.
Gen Buyukanit said the strikes had been successful and all targets had been destroyed. He denied that villages along the border had been struck, and said that the strikes targeted PKK camps that had been previously identified.
“No civilian targets or villages were hit even accidentally,” Ge Buyukanit said.
The general said he and his top commanders had watched the operation live at the general staff headquarters in Ankara.
“Last night, I did not sleep at all … I went home in the morning with my mind at rest,” he said.
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