Kurds From Iraq Kill 17 Soldiers in Turkey

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 22, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 21 -- An audacious cross-border ambush by Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers Sunday, ratcheting up pressure on the Turkish government to launch a military offensive into Iraq.

The pre-dawn attack took place as the U.S. military said its troops killed 49 fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, one of the highest death tolls for a military operation since President Bush declared an end to active combat in 2003.

But Iraqi officials and residents of the vast Shiite enclave, loyal to powerful anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said 13 people were killed and all of the victims were innocent civilians, including children. They warned that the attack could lead Sadr to rescind a suspension of his militia's operations.

The unrelated spasms of violence on two fronts illustrated the highly combustible geopolitical and domestic challenges confounding the U.S. military, even as a temporary troop increase has succeeded in tamping down some of the violence in Iraq.

The raid on Turkish soldiers, among the deadliest attacks in recent memory, was carried out by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials PKK. The armed group aims to create an independent Kurdish state out of parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and western Iran.

Turkish officials said 16 soldiers were also wounded in the fighting in Hakkari province, which borders Iraq. Thirty-two Kurdish fighters were killed in subsequent clashes and 10 Turkish troops were still missing, they said.

Abdul Rahman al-Chaderchi, a PKK spokesman, said the Kurdish fighters attacked because Turkish troops were conducting war games late Saturday near the border. He said that the death toll was higher than Turkey reported and that several soldiers were being held prisoner, but he declined to provide precise numbers.

"They tried to enter the Iraqi lands," Chaderchi said. "But our fighters have confronted them."

Senior Turkish military and government officials held emergency meetings Sunday night to decide on a response. Turkey's parliament voted last week to give Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government authority for a military offensive into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish fighters hiding there.

"Turkey does not have designs on Iraq's territory," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said after the attacks, according to the Anatolian news agency. "However, if Iraq keeps harboring terrorists, Turkey has the right to destroy this."

At a news conference hours after the ambush, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, ordered the guerrilla fighters to stop their attacks or leave Iraq. "We are against all the actions that are done by the PKK," he said. "And we will not support the PKK. We want the best relations with Turkey."

But he added: "The Turkish army with all its capabilities couldn't arrest the leaders of the PKK. So how could we do that? It's a dream that cannot be reached."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company