Turkish Warplanes Bomb Northern Iraq, Draw Harsh Criticism

Brussels (Combined Sources)–The European Union Monday voiced concern at Turkish air strikes on Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, urging restraint and respect for the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Sunday’s raids saw Turkish warplanes bomb 10 villages in northern Iraq, targeting rear-bases of the PKK. Seven people were reported killed, including two civilians.
"The presidency calls on the Turkish authorities to exercise restraint, to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq and refrain from taking any military action that could undermine regional peace and stability," A statement from the EU Portuguese Presidency said.
Turkey denies there were any civilian casualties and says its attacks are aimed at Kurdish PKK members sheltering in Iraq. The PKK vowed retaliation against Turkish targets.
Iraq strongly condemned the Turkish air strikes in its northern territory, branding them a "cruel attack" on Iraqi sovereignty that claimed innocent lives. The parliament in Baghdad demanded that Ankara exercise military restraint and focus on dialogue to solve the PKK problem.
"We understand Turkish concerns over the presence of PKK, but yesterday there was some collateral damages to civilians… Such action must be coordinated with the Iraqi government," said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who did not give casualty figures.
"Our people have every right to defend themselves and to retaliate," the PKK said in a statement carried by the Firat news agency.
"This right is sacred and our people will do what is required," the statement said.
Locals said schools and bridges were also destroyed in the foothills of the Qandil Mountains along the border.
"We were all asleep when the warplanes struck our village," said Hassan Ibrahim, 75, a farmer from the village of Qalatuqa along the Iraq-Turkey border.
"When the attack came I got out of the house. We were all suffocating because of the dust."
He said Turkish warplanes had been flying over the region for the past month.
"Earlier it was Saddam who destroyed our homes, now it is the Turks," an angry Ibrahim told AFP as he prepared to leave his home.
Witnesses said the bombings had razed dozens of buildings in Qalatuqa, including a soon-to-be-opened school building.
Asaka Abdullah, 40, said she woke up shocked with the noise of the bombings.
"I was asleep when the sound of the explosion woke me up. When I stepped out of my house I saw people fleeing barefoot," she said. "We really have no choice but to flee to the mountains to escape the bombs."
Iraq’s government earlier summoned the Turkish ambassador and demanded a halt to the strikes, saying they were unacceptable and could seriously harm relations between the two countries.
On Sunday, Ankara’s most senior general Yasar Buyukanit said Turkey had received tacit US consent for the operation by providing "intelligence" and opening up northern Iraqi airspace.
The US, a strong Turkish ally, has denied giving permission for Turkish aircraft to enter Iraqi airspace but confirmed it had been informed of the strikes in advance.
"That said, we want to make sure that the actions that are taken are done in an appropriate way, that hit only those targets that are PKK and avoid civilian casualties," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
Turkey is seeking EU membership and calls by Brussels to grant Turkish Kurds minority rights have dogged negotiations in the past.
The PKK has been fighting for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984. More than 37,000 people have died on both sides of the conflict.
Turkey has threatened a full-scale incursion against PKK bases in northern Iraq unless Baghdad and the United States make greater efforts to curb the rebels’ cross-border operations.
The Turkish military said its air strikes on PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) bases deep inside northern Iraq were launched at 2 am on Sunday.
During an operation lasting three hours, targets were hit in Zap, Hakurk and Avasin, as well as areas in the Kandil mountains.
Turkish media reports say up to 50 planes were involved in the operation.
The Turkish military said only "terrorist" targets were hit, but the PKK reported that two civilians had been killed along with five of its fighters.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the raids as a "success" and said his government was determined to use all political and military means, both inside and outside Turkey, against the PKK.
The US has urged Turkey to step back from a major operation against the PKK in northern Iraq because it fears military action could destabilize what has become one the most peaceful and prosperous regions of the country.

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