Turkish Planes Bomb Kurdish Targets in Northern Iraq

ANKARA (Reuter)–Turkish warplanes launched bomb attacks on Kurdish bases Monday in the second week of an operation inside northern Iraq–the state-run Anatolian news agency said.

It said F-4 and F-16 jets–taking off from Turkey early this morning–raided rebel positions at Khwakurk–Zab–White Mountain–Hayirsiz Mountain and the Sindi Pass and "leveled the camps to the ground."

About 15,000 Turkish troops–supported by Kurdish militia forces–entered Iraq last week in a campaign against members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who operate from the region in their fight for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

The offensive has angered Iran and Baghdad–which lost control of northern Iraq to Iraqi Kurd groups after the 1991 Gulf War. The Arab Parliamentarians’ Union on Saturday urged Ankara to withdraw its troops from the region immediately.

Turkey said Monday that its soldiers had always pulled out from northern Iraq after similar operations in the past–proving that Ankara had no designs on Iraqi territory.

"At the conclusion of all those military operations our troops have come back…giving concrete proof of our sincerity and respect to Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty,” foreign ministry spokesman Omer Akbel told a news briefing.

Akbel said Turkey was only protecting its borders from PKK attacks. "Whatever is required to ensure that goal will be done–as has been the case in the past."

A US-led air force based in Turkey protects northern Iraq from any attack by Baghdad–but Ankara fears much of the area is falling under the control of the PKK.

The Turkish television channel NTV said Turkish ground troops had started a wide-ranging offensive against the guerrillas and were driving towards large rebel camps at Zab–near the Turkish-Iraqi border and Khwakurk–close to Iraq’s border with Iran.

Turkish troops occupied Zab during a similar offensive earlier this year but the rebels have apparently re-established themselves in the area.

Turkey has brought in an extra 1,000 mostly Turkish Kurd village guard militiamen to support the campaign in addition to the some 2,000 guards said to be taking part in the operation previously.

Anatolian said the latest operation was in response to the PKK recently sending 1,000 members into northern Iraq from neighboring Syria and Iran to prepare for attacks on Turkey.

Tehran and Damascus deny frequent Turkish charges that they support the PKK.

An Iraqi opposition group said the PKK was fleeing advancing Turkish troops.

"The PKK are not staying and fighting. It’s a classic guerrilla tactic. When the Turkish army move into an area they pull out and then use harassment," said a spokesman for the London-based Iraqi National Congress.

Anatolian said the Kurdistan Democratic Party–an Iraqi Kurdish militia allied to Ankara–had killed 10 PKK members in the Rawanduz and Sideka areas of northern Iraq.

Baghdad also announced that eight Iranian planes bombed targets inside Iraq Monday and an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq said two of its camps were attacked in the raid.

A United Nations official in Baghdad said UN observers monitoring a relief program have pulled out from Kut and Dailya where the raids took place.

"At 7 a.m. local time…eight Iranian warplanes raided targets inside our territory in Daiyla and Kut provinces. Our alert anti-aircraft units have confronted the enemy planes as soon as the raids took place," an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman’said.

Mujahideen Khalq–Iran’s main exile opposition group–said the raids targeted two of their camps – one near the city of Kut–110 miles southeast of Baghdad and the other near Jalwlaa–130 km (80 miles) northeast of the capital.

The Iraqi spokesman’said Iran was fully responsible for any casualties and damage caused by the raids–but gave no details.

"Our jet fighters chased the invading planes–forcing them to flee inside Iran," the spokesman’said–according to the official Iraqi News Agency.

There was no immediate comment from Iran.

Mujahideen Khalq said the raids "caused no casualties among the (Mujahideen Khalq’s) fighters but there are casualties among Iraqi civilians because some of the bombs hit Iraqi residential areas near these camps."

Mujahideen bases in Iraq have been the target of air and rocket attacks by Iran in the past. The group’s office in Baghdad is ringed by a concrete wall which has withstood mortar and bomb attacks.

Eric Falt–spokesman for Iraq’s UN humanitarian coordinator–said "in light of these reports…observers involved in the implementation of oil-for-food deal in districts of Kut and Dailya have been invited to return to Baghdad."

Around 130 UN observers are monitoring the food distribution program in Iraq under a UN deal which allows Baghdad oil sales worth $2 billion over six months in exchange for food and medicine to help Iraqis suffering because of UN trade sanctions imposed for Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Mujahideen Khalq’s Massoud Rajavi sent letters to the UN secretary-general and members of the Security Council "urging them to condemn this terrorist attack," the group said.

The United States and its allies have imposed two no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq to protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shi’ite Moslems in the south against possible attack by Baghdad.

"Iran…and another state are making use of the air embargo in the south and the north imposed by America and those who cooperate with it to violate Iraq’s sovereignty and airspace and commit military aggression," the Iraqi spokesman’said.

He urged "the Arab and international community to shoulder their responsibility and condemn the Iranian aggression and press the United States and its allies to put an end to the no-fly zones in north and south Iraq."

Reports of the Iranian attack followed Turkey’s fresh offensive in northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency said on Monday Turkish planes bombed bases belonging to Kurdish rebels in the second week of an operation inside northern Iraq.

About 15,000 Turkish troops supported by militia forces entered Iraq last week in a campaign against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who operate from the region in their fight for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

Anatolian said the latest operation was in response to the PKK recently sending 1,000 guerrillas into northern Iraq from neighboring Syria and Iran to prepare for attacks on Turkey.

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