Turkish warplanes bombard Kurd rebel targets in Iraq
Attack hits several villages in the north
SURADEH, Iraq - Turkish jets bombed several villages in northern Iraq early yesterday in the most aggressive action in years against Kurdish rebels who take sanctuary in the Kurdistan border region of Iraq.
Local officials said at least one civilian was killed and several wounded. The pro-Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, Firat News agency said five guerrillas and two civilians were killed and that many of the damaged buildings were schools and homes.
The targeted towns included Suradeh, a hamlet of about 30 homes nestled in the Qandil Mountains more than 50 miles from the Turkish border. Yesterday afternoon, residents who had sought shelter in frigid mountain caves during the overnight bombardment returned to a scene of damaged homes and dead livestock. Many were packing up and leaving in fear of additional attacks. As they bundled blankets, dishes, food, and clothes in vehicles or on the backs of mules, they spoke of the overnight terror.
"My youngest daughter is still crying and saying, 'Mama, I'm scared,' " said Muneera Khalid, who sought shelter in a cave with her husband and three children, ages 7, 10, and 14. It took them a half-hour to reach the cave, going by foot in the dark after the first air strikes began at about 2 a.m.
"Why is the Turkish Army bombing our village?" she said, breaking down in tears.
In Turkey, news reports quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as describing the bombings as "a comprehensive operation against camps of a terrorist organization in the north of Iraq."
He warned of more military assaults against the PKK, which has fought the Turkish government since 1984 for a separate Kurdish state.
The United States considers the organization a terrorist group, and during a visit to Iraq earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Washington shared Turkey's goal of ending PKK activities "once and for all."
Reuters news agency quoted Turkey's top military commander, General Yasar Buyukanit, as saying the United States had approved the raid. Washington has denied Turkish assertions that it gave the green light to previous raids, and a State Department official would not comment on the latest report.
Some US officials have suggested in the past that they would not oppose Turkish strikes on the PKK as long as they did not involve occupation of Iraqi territory.
However, the United States also worries that increased military activities along Iraq's northern border could uncork new volatility in the country at a time when security has been improving elsewhere in Iraq.
Turkish action had been anticipated since Ankara sent some 100,000 troops to the border region in November after an increase in PKK raids on Turkish targets. Turkey's Parliament has also approved a resolution giving the government the legal go-ahead for cross-border operations.
A Turkish military statement said the jet fighters, backed by long-range missiles fired by ground troops, targeted PKK targets and returned to their bases at 4:15 a.m.
Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper said the PKK's main command center was among the targets hit.
But local residents insisted that civilians bore the brunt of the attacks. Musheer Ahmed said his daughter lost a leg in the bombing and his home was destroyed. Nashneel Bayz, a schoolteacher, said she was sleeping in her bedroom when the windows were shattered by bombs.
"I ran like a crazy person. I saw the others running in panic and terror. It was chaos," said Bayz. "We are non-armed people, we have nothing, and they send modern airplanes to bomb us."
She said those who suffered were civilians, not PKK fighters.
"The PKK positions are still intact," she said. "We even had some PKK fighters with us in the cave, in addition to women, children."