Turkey Presses Iraqis After Attack by Rebels

In this Feb. 23, 2008 file photo, Turkish soldiers search for mines as they patrol to secure a main road in Senoba, Sirnak, at the border with Iraq. Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents, the military said in Ankara, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008, in the deadliest battle between the longtime enemies this year. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
In this Feb. 23, 2008 file photo, Turkish soldiers search for mines as they patrol to secure a main road in Senoba, Sirnak, at the border with Iraq. Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents, the military said in Ankara, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008, in the deadliest battle between the longtime enemies this year. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File) (Burhan Ozbilici - AP)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 5, 2008

ISTANBUL, Oct. 4 -- Turkey pressed neighboring Iraq on Saturday to take action against Kurdish rebels after they killed 15 Turkish soldiers near a border outpost, in the rebels' single deadliest attack against Turkish forces this year.

Retaliatory strikes by Turkish warplanes, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery into northern Iraq killed at least 23 of the Kurdish rebels, Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak, a Turkish military spokesman, told reporters in Ankara, the capital.

Turkey said its forces were seeking two soldiers abducted during the fighting. A local civilian official at the scene said helicopters were patrolling the skies over the border.

Most of Turkey's casualties occurred in fighting Friday near an army post in the village of Aktutun, six miles from the border, Gurak said.

Emin Sari, a city councilman in Semdinli, the town nearest Aktutun, said by telephone that the rebels attacked soldiers in the mountains around the outpost around 1 p.m. Friday. The rebels were equipped with rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and what appeared to be antiaircraft artillery, he said.

Turkish forces called in air power and reinforcements, and the rebels slipped away after five hours of fighting, Sari said. There was no sign of major troop movements Saturday, he said.

Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called off state trips abroad so they could discuss their response to the attack. Erdogan attended emergency talks Saturday night with top army generals and cabinet ministers.

Turkey's military has launched repeated airstrikes and a week-long ground offensive in Iraq this year. Friday's fighting raised expectations in Turkey of another extensive cross-border operation.

Calling the rebels traitors, parliament speaker Koksal Toptan told reporters in Ankara, "We have no doubt that they will receive the answer they deserve in the harshest way."

The rebels are members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, an armed group that has fought for greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority since 1984. The rebels are based in southeastern Turkey and in northern Iraq, where Iraq's Kurdish minority runs a largely autonomous Kurdish government.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its officials had contacted Iraqi authorities to renew requests that they move against the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

"We expect the government of our neighbor Iraq to fulfill its responsibilities," the Foreign Ministry said.


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