Turkish Troops Seize Iraqi Town Pound Kurds

ON THE TURKISH-IRAQI BORDER (Reuter)–Turkish troops–tanks and air power pounded Kurdish positions inside northern Iraq Thursday in the second day of a sweep through the remote mountainous region.

F-4 fighter-bombers from two southeastern Turkish bases struck camps of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq early Thursday–while US-made Cobra helicopters continued the assault on rebel units.

The state-run Anatolian news agency said at least 30 PKK members had been killed since the operation was launched before dawn on Wednesday–apparently to prevent cross-border raids by the Kurds.

It said troops had inflicted their first casualties in fighting around what it identified as the Sarisavaklar region–across the border from the Turkish province of Sirnak.

There was no word of any casualties on the Turkish side–but fighting was continuing and the toll was expected to rise.

UN guards in Zakho–the main Iraqi border town–said the bulk of the Turkish forces had already pushed on to the east and the immediate region was quiet.

"Everything is calm and quiet in Zakho. The troops are to the east of here," one guard–reached by satellite telephone–told Reuters.

The guard said some 15 to 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers–as well as several hundred soldiers–had stayed behind to secure the area. He had no reports of any clashes.

The incursion–the biggest in two years and involving at least 10,000 troops–was carried out under a "news blackout" with journalists barred from the region and film and mobile telephones confiscated by Iraqi Kurds supporting the attack.

"You will not get in today," a senior Turkish commander told reporters at the Habur border crossing–which was sealed to civilian traffic before the attack.

Soldiers at Habur–the main commercial entry point–said the army had established a second crossing further to the east to speed up the movement of men and machines over the border.

Other troops made their way across the frontier from Hakkari province–well to the east. Anatolian said troops had also begun a big assault around the mountains to the west–towards Iraq’s borders with Syria.

Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) were involved in fierce clashes with the PKK in the Begova and Derkar areas northeast of Zakho–the main town in the area–Anatolian said.

Defense Minister Turhan Tayan said the Iraq operation–the biggest since a 35,000-man–six-week incursion in 1995–was mounted at the invitation of KDP leader Massoud Barzani–whose guerrillas control the Iraqi side of the border.

Baghdad–whose authority stops short of the predominantly Kurdish north–said the incursion violated international law.

The KDP said in a statement that it had repeatedly urged the PKK not to establish military bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan. "Yet the PKK did not heed our requests and consequently have turned the region once again into a battleground where the real victims would be the population of the border region," it said.

Washington said Turkey had the right of self-defense–but that it expected a quick Turkish pullout.

The anti-Baghdad Iraqi National Congress–citing what it said were satellite telephone contacts inside Iraq–said the Turks had cut the road between Dohuk–one of the main cities of the Kurdish north–and the government-controlled city of Mosul.

PKK fighters had fallen back under the assault–with some forced to flee the "safe haven" carved out by Western forces to protect the Kurds after the 1991 Gulf war–for the safety of government territory. Others moved east toward Iran.

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