ANKARA (Bloomberg)–Turkey’s military attacked Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq Wednesday, as the U.S. urged restraint from both sides in the conflict.
Turkish F-16 jets and helicopters strafed positions along the Iraqi border, the state-run Anatolia news agency in Ankara said, in a fourth day of fighting. Soldiers on the Turkish side located PKK hideouts, seizing weapons and supplies.
Turkey has vowed a military incursion into northern Iraq to end the threat posed to its security by the PKK. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union. The U.S. has warned Turkey against mounting a full-scale military assault, saying it will destabilize the calmest part of Iraq.
“We are concerned about the continuing skirmishes,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Washington today. “We continue to urge both sides to exercise restraint.”
Turkish F-16 fighter planes were spotted over the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border, as they embarked on bombing runs against the militants, the CNN Turk television said, citing eye witnesses.
The PKK has fought the Turkish military at the cost of almost 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish. Turkey’s parliament on Oct. 17 passed a resolution authorizing the government to send troops into Iraq to attack PKK positions there.
Turkish jets and artillery had pounded at least 63 suspected rebel positions inside the Kurdish-controlled region from Oct. 21 until yesterday, a Turkish lawmaker said.
The army sent 300 commandos into Iraq by helicopter on Oct. 21 to hunt down PKK fighters after 12 soldiers were killed by the group the same day, the official said. The attack on PKK bases up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) into Iraq lasted about 28 hours before troops returned to the Turkish side, he added.
“These military operations will continue and perhaps the Turks will start economic sanctions against Iraq too,” said Wolfango Piccoli, a political risk analyst at Eurasia Group in London. “The government really needs to do something more substantial to satisfy public opinion.”
About 80,000 Turkish troops are now lined up along the border with Iraq, the lawmaker said.
PKK militants have killed 42 Turkish soldiers and civilians this month. Tens of thousands of Turks protested in cities across the country this week, calling for an immediate military incursion into Iraq and chanting anti-PKK slogans.
Turkey killed one PKK fighter in the province of Malatya yesterday and found a cache of weapons including rocket launchers and plastic explosives in Hakkari, adjacent to the border with Iraq, the army said on its Web site today.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Iraq may hand over PKK fighters to Turkey as part of measures to end the group’s activities, CNN Turk reported today, citing unidentified Turkish officials. Talabani ruled out such a move earlier this week.
Turkey, with the second-largest army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, sent troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK rebels several times in the decade before the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003. It has stopped such assaults since the U.S.-led invasion, instead attacking PKK units as they have entered Turkey.
The National Security Council, a forum of Turkish ministers and army generals, met in Ankara today to discuss measures against the armed group.
The president of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, urged the PKK to end its more than two-decade armed struggle against Turkey. Barzani said his administration didn’t accept the use of Iraqi territory, including Iraqi Kurdistan, as a base to threaten the security of neighbors, an e-mailed statement by Barzani’s office said.
US officials have slammed Iraqi Kurdish leaders over the last few days for allowing PKK guerrillas to operate unchecked in the Kurdish region, the New York Times said on its Web site.
A team of Iraqi officials will visit Ankara tomorrow for meetings on the PKK with Turkey’s government, CNN Turk reported. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan held talks with Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad yesterday.