By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 6, 2008
BAGHDAD, March 5 -- Five days after withdrawing its troops from northern Iraq, Turkey launched another round of air and artillery strikes on Kurdish guerrilla territory there, a sign that the offensive against the rebels will continue, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Turkish warplanes and artillery pounded the Zap area, according to the officials, the same mountainous region in Iraq in which Turkish ground troops fought guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in an eight-day offensive that ended Friday. The area, which civilians have largely evacuated, is the PKK's main base in northern Iraq.
Staff Gen. Omar Sharif of the Iraqi border forces said no casualties were reported in the latest Turkish strikes. The PKK guerrillas are skilled at moving quickly and hiding in the mountains, making it difficult to disrupt their activities.
Abdullah Ahmed, a spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish Pesh Merga military forces in Amadiyah, a Kurdish town near the area that was bombed, said the barrage lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
After months of sporadic bombing and shelling, Turkey sent ground troops into Iraq late last month to confront the Kurdish guerrillas. Many people in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq saw the incursion as a violation of their sovereignty. Iraqi Kurdish officials also feared that Turkey had designs beyond quelling the PKK, such as damaging the region's economy.
Turkish officials, who did not immediately confirm Wednesday's bombing, said their target was exclusively the guerrillas, who have fought the Turkish government for decades in the name of securing more rights for the millions of Kurds who live in Turkey and neighboring countries.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. military released from custody two former high-ranking Shiite government officials who had been accused of kidnapping and killing Sunnis. They were freed after Iraqi prosecutors decided Monday to drop the charges against them.
The Iraqi judicial system's handling of the cases against the two former Health Ministry officials -- Hakim al-Zamili, who was deputy minister, and Brig. Gen. Hamid Hamza Alwan Abbas al-Shamari, who led the agency's security force -- drew wide criticism from Sunnis and Americans on the grounds that it showed a sectarian bias in the government in favor of the two defendants because they are Shiites.
The men, followers of Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, were accused of helping murder Sunni doctors, using ambulances to run guns for militiamen and torturing and kidnapping Sunni hospital patients. An Iraqi prosecutor asked that the case be dropped for lack of evidence, though American legal advisers had said there was ample evidence.
Zamili was greeted at his Sadr City home by a large, joyful crowd, according to the Associated Press. Many of the people joined him for lunch in a tent erected in his honor to celebrate his release.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni political group, issued a statement Wednesday calling the men's release "a black mark and a grave setback in the history of the Iraqi judicial system" that could draw the country "into disaster."
Special correspondents Dlovan Brwari and Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.