Turkey Bombs Suspected Kurdish Rebels

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 10, 2007; 11:53 AM

SIRNAK, Turkey -- Turkish warplanes bombed positions of suspected Kurdish rebels Wednesday, and the prime minister said preparations for parliamentary approval of a military mission against separatist fighters in Iraq were under way.

A cross-border operation could hurt Turkey's relationship with the United States, which opposes Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, a region that has escaped the violence afflicting much of the rest of the country.

U.S. officials are already preoccupied with efforts to stabilize areas of Iraq outside the predominantly Kurdish northern region.

Turkey and the United States are NATO allies, but ties have also been tense over a U.S. congressional bill that would label the mass killings of Armenians by Turks around the time of World War I as genocide. President Bush strongly urged Congress to reject the bill, saying it would do "great harm" to U.S.-Turkish relations.

Turkish troops blocked rebel escape routes into Iraq while F-16 and F-14 warplanes and Cobra helicopters dropped bombs on possible hideouts, Dogan news agency reported. The military had dispatched tanks to the region to support the operation against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in response to more than a week of deadly attacks in southeastern Turkey.

Turkish authorities also detained 20 suspected Kurdish rebels at a border crossing with Iraq, the office for the governor of Sirnak said in a statement.

Dogan said the military had installed night vision cameras at strategic points to prevent any rebels fleeing at night. The agency said there was fog Wednesday morning in the Gabar and Cudi regions of Sirnak province, near the Iraq border, forcing warplanes to fly low.

The military activity followed attacks by PKK rebels that killed 15 soldiers since Sunday and prompted Turkey's government to push for a possible cross-border offensive against separatist bases in Iraq. Turkish Kurd rebels have been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said preparations for a parliamentary authorization for a cross-border mission were under way, but did not say when the motion would reach the floor. The preparations "have started and are continuing," he said.

A member of the governing Justice and Development Party said a request for parliamentary approval for a cross-border ground offensive was unlikely to come to the floor before the end of a four-day religious holiday on Sunday. He asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Turkish troops targeting the guerrillas' suspected escape routes in mountainous areas in Sirnak province have "squeezed" a group of about 80 rebels on Mount Gabar, in Sirnak, the Hurriyet newspaper reported. Escape routes were being bombed by helicopter gunships while transport helicopters were airlifting special commando units to strategic points.

Turkish troops were also shelling suspected PKK camps in the regions of Kanimasa, Nazdur and Sinath, in northern Iraq, from positions in Turkey's Hakkari province, just across the border, Hurriyet reported. Tanks were positioned near the town of Silopi, in Sirnak province, the paper said.

At least one artillery unit was seen positioned on the Turkish side of the border, across from the Iraqi Kurdish town of Zakho, with guns facing toward Iraq.

The paper said the government would impose an information blackout on its preparations for a possible cross-border offensive.

On Wednesday, an opposition nationalist party that has long been advocating an incursion into Iraq called on the government to swiftly take the motion to parliament and said it would back it.

If parliament approves, the military could choose to immediately launch an operation or wait to see if the United States and its allies, jolted by the Turkish action, decide to crack down on the rebels.

Turkey conducted two dozen large-scale incursions into Iraq between the late 1980s and 1997. The last such operation, in 1997, involved tens of thousands of troops and government-paid village guards.

Other punitive measure at Turkey's disposal including cutting electricity supplies and closing the border with Iraq.

© 2007 The Associated Press