Turks attack Kurds in Iraq

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ANKARA - Five thousand Turkish troops drove deep into northern Iraq yesterday, in pursuit of Turkish Kurdish rebels under fire from Iraqi Kurds. The soldiers reached five miles inside Iraq, on the second day of their operation, said sources in the area.

The Turkish troops are encircling rebel camps in Haftanin and Hakurk, some six miles from the Turkish border. Turkish jetfighters have been bombing the camps for the past two weeks, but this was the first time such a large concentration of troops had joined the fight.

The rebels of the illegal Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), have been fighting a guerrilla war for self-rule in south-eastern Turkey since 1984, and are operating mainly from bases in northern Iraq. They have escalated attacks over the past year, taking advantage of the lack of Iraqi control over northern Iraq after the Gulf war. Iran and Syria recently limited PKK activity on their soil.

The Iraqi Kurds started their military offensive against the PKK rebels this month with Turkish air and artillery support. They acted under pressure from Turkey, which had accused them of sheltering the PKK. The Iraqi Kurds depend on supply routes through Turkey to their autonomous region, protected from Saddam Hussein's army by a Western air force since shortly after the Gulf war. Turkey permits the force to operate from its soil. Turkish bombing raids on PKK bases have killed and wounded many Iraqi Kurds, hardening them against the Turkish Kurdish guerrillas.

Turkey's state television yesterday showed Cobra helicopters firing rockets and jetfighters were seen bombing targets while Turkish troops advanced. Smoke rose from the mountains while soldiers cheered. The PKK rebels responded at one point by launching an anti-aircraft rocket but the jets headed toward a target and bombed it, the footage showed. The only casualty came when a Turkish soldier stepped on a mine and lost his leg, the report said. He was seen being carried away in a blanket.

In the northern Iraqi town of Zakho, Iraqi Kurd guerrillas said they had checked a two-week advance on Turkish Kurds. 'They are fleeing from their bases in (Iraqi) Kurdistan. We have achieved our objectives,' said a spokesman for the (Iraqi) Kurdistan Front.

He said Iraqi Kurdish fighters were holding positions near the border with Turkey and Syria. 'We didn't want to fight them, just to get them out of Iraq,' the spokesman said.