Scores of rebels dead, Turkey says

U.S. ally says it has killed more than 150 Kurds in Iraq airstrikes

December 26, 2007|By New York Times News Service...

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkish airstrikes on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq have killed more than 150 rebels and hit more than 200 targets in recent days, the Turkish military said yesterday, countering Kurdish claims that only a handful of people were killed in the attacks.

The air raids, on Dec. 16 and 22, were the first large-scale assaults on Iraqi territory since the Turkish parliament approved cross-border operations in mid-October against hideouts of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK.

According to a statement by the Turkish army, Turkish fighter planes hit 22 targets in the Metina, Zap, Avashin and Hakurk regions in Iraq on Dec. 16, after intelligence confirmed a rebel presence at the sites.

Eleven locations around the Qandil Mountains, where the PKK's central command is based, also were heavily damaged, including several training bases, anti-aircraft platforms, warehouses and weapons stored in hideouts, the army said. The area was struck again Dec. 22, the army said.

The military also issued aerial video and still photographs that it said showed targets before and after the bombings.

Turkey's assertions came as Kurdish and American officials said that Turkish jets crossed into Iraqi airspace again yesterday, in what American officials said was the fourth such flight over the border in two weeks.

Turkish officials did not comment on claims that it flew into Iraq yesterday but confirmed that it carried out an operation on its side of the border in southeastern Turkey. An army statement said five rebels were killed as part of a group preparing an attack.

The Turkish government accuses the PKK of launching cross-border attacks on Turkish soil from remote bases in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The conflict has placed the U.S. in a delicate situation. The United States supports Turkey's right to self-defense against the PKK and has provided intelligence to Turkey, a crucial American ally. But the Kurdish and Iraqi governments, also important allies, have objected to the Turkish attacks, while refusing to take action themselves against the militants.

The Kurds have consistently denied heavy PKK casualties, saying the airstrikes caused little damage in deserted mountainous areas. Kurdish news Web sites have quoted a PKK official saying that only five of the group's fighters had been killed in all the recent Turkish attacks but provided no evidence to support the claim.

Kurds accuse the Turks of violating their sovereignty and inflicting civilian casualties. Nawzad Hadi, the governor of Hawler, a town just a few miles inside the Iraqi border, said the Dec. 16 attack displaced 381 families and killed four civilians.

The Turkish military rejects such claims as PKK propaganda.

"It is clear that such baseless claims encouraging terror, the common enemy of humanity, can only harm those who fabricate them," the Turkish army statement said. It insisted that 150 to 175 rebels were killed in unsheltered locations, and others in hideouts, and that a large number of wounded were taken to nearby hospitals.

The Kurds accuse the Turks of exaggerating. Dr. Sherko Abdullah, the director general of hospitals in Sulaimaniya, said, "Until now, no wounded PKK have been brought to us, only civilians from the bombarded villages."

However the Kurdish authorities have sealed off the border region in recent weeks, making it impossible to verify the facts. The PKK is also known to have its own hospitals in the Qandil Mountains, away from the public eye.

According to Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian News Agency, Turkish surveillance planes were spotted early yesterday over Cukurca, in the Hakkari province of Turkey's far southeast, along the border with Iraq, and also above the Kanimasi region in northern Iraq. Shelling was also heard, the agency reported.

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