Iraqi Kurds: Turkey Shells Across Border

The Associated Press
Friday, June 8, 2007; 3:43 PM

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkish artillery shelled suspected positions of Kurdish rebels based across the border in northern Iraq on Friday, according to reports. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Turkey that it risked expanding regional tensions with any "robust" move of troops into Iraq.

Turkey has been building up its forces along the border with Iraq, and its leaders are debating whether to stage a major incursion to pursue Kurdish rebels from Turkey who rest, train and resupply at bases in Iraq. Such an operation could ignite a wider conflict involving Iraqi Kurds, and draw in its NATO ally, the United States.

Rice, speaking in New York to a panel of journalists and editors from The Associated Press, said it's "not good for anybody for a robust move across the border." She described it as "not good for Iraq and not good for Turkey."

The statement by Rice suggested Washington has acknowledged that Turkey might conduct limited incursions across the rugged frontier against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, also known as PKK.

Iran has also clashed with Iranian Kurd fighters who have bases in remote, mountainous areas of northern Iraq, and Iranian forces reportedly participated in the overnight shelling.

Tension and violence involving Kurds, who lack a nation-state but have long sought autonomy, have ebbed and surged in the past century in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. In Turkey, Kurds make up about 20 percent of the country's population of more than 70 million.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, reported the overnight Turkish and Iranian shelling on its Web site. Turkish military authorities at the General Staff in Ankara were not immediately available for comment.

Iranian officials in Tehran could not be reached for comment late Friday. Iranian media contained no reports on any shelling, and usually wait several days to report such incidents.

The PUK said artillery shells overnight hit some areas in the Sidikan area in Irbil province, where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq converge, and that nine villages were affected. It was unclear whether there was any degree of coordination among Turkish and Iranian gunners.

"Huge damage was inflicted on the area," the PUK said, citing what it described as an unidentified "source" in the area. "The source said that residents have left their houses, fearing for their lives."

Lt. Ahmed Karim of the Iraqi border guards force told the AP that seven Turkish shells landed on a forest near Sakta village in the Batous area, but no casualties were reported.

Belgium-based Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency that Turkey says is a rebel mouthpiece, said Turkish forces shelled areas in Iraq for three hours beginning at 11 p.m. Thursday. It said there were no reports of casualties.

On Friday, Turkey's military declared its "unshakable determination" to defeat Kurdish rebels, and a fourth soldier died of injuries from a roadside bomb in a new Turkish security zone north of the Iraq border. The bombing Thursday was blamed on Kurdish separatists.

On Wednesday, Turkish security officials and an Iraqi Kurdish official said Turkish soldiers had crossed into Iraq in pursuit of rebels based there. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied such a raid took place.

Turkish forces occasionally have pursued Kurdish rebels just across the border, but rarely announce the operations.

© 2007 The Associated Press