Turkey pressed an intensifying offensive against Kurdish guerrillas in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday, sending warplanes across the border...
CAIRO, Egypt — Turkey pressed an intensifying offensive against Kurdish guerrillas in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday, sending warplanes across the border to bomb suspected winter hideouts of the rebels, the Turkish military said.
The warplanes hit eight caves or other hideouts in the Zap valley, in northern Iraq, Turkey’s military general staff said in a statement on its Web site. Turkish armed forces had been watching the sites for some time and thought rebels had been preparing the hideouts as winter bases, the statement said.
Turkey’s military called the bombing “a pinpoint operation.”
It gave no casualty estimates, but Kurdish officials said no one was killed.
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The strike was the latest in a series of attacks Turkey has launched in northern Iraq since forging an agreement with the United States to share intelligence on the activity of the rebels.
Turkey says thousands of fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party are sheltered in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq and using the area as a base for cross-border raids into Turkey.
The Kurdish guerrilla group, known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, took up arms in 1984 to fight for a separate homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, a conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Turkey faces domestic pressure to strike back at the rebels, and the United States and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
But the United States opposes any large-scale Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, now one of the war-torn country’s most stable areas. The more limited raids conducted recently, including Wednesday’s, has put Washington in an awkward position because Turkey and Iraq are both key allies.
Turkey says it has killed or injured hundreds of the Kurdish guerrillas in ground and air raids into northern Iraq since mid-December. The largest attack came Dec. 16, when Turkey said it destroyed a large number of guerrilla bases in nighttime bombing.
Officials in northern Iraq, however, say the bombing raids have targeted largely deserted areas and caused few casualties. Kurdish officials have condemned the raids and demanded both the Iraqi and the U.S. governments to move to stop the attacks.
Turkish forces have crossed the border — in the air or on the ground — in pursuit of Kurdish rebels for four of the last five days.
Turkey’s military also is battling Kurdish guerrillas within Turkey, killing eight in what the military described as a “clash” on Mount Kupeli in the southeastern province of Sirnak on Wednesday. Turkish armed forces said they “neutralized” five other guerrillas on the mountain Tuesday.
Turkey’s general staff said the fighting was in the area where guerrillas killed four Turkish soldiers in November.
Lawmakers in Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region Wednesday delayed a referendum to decide the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds and Arabs. The vote defuses for now a potentially explosive issue being watched closely by neighboring Turkey. Iraq’s minority Kurds, who control the Kurdistan region, see Kirkuk, which sits on one of the world’s largest oil fields, as their historical capital. Arabs encouraged to move there under Saddam Hussein, however, want it to remain under control of Iraq’s central government. Turkey fears Kirkuk’s inclusion into Kurdistan would give Kurds access to oil revenues that could encourage Kurdish dreams of an independent state and stir unrest among Turkish Kurds.
Additional information from The Associated Press and Reuters