Retaliatory Turkish Airstrikes Target Kurdish Rebels in Iraq

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 6, 2008

ISTANBUL, Oct. 5 -- Turkey staged retaliatory airstrikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq on Sunday as thousands of Turks attended rain-lashed funerals for 15 soldiers killed by the rebels in a cross-border attack.

Public anger mounted in Turkey at the inability of civilian leaders to stop attacks by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The group has waged a 24-year guerrilla war for greater autonomy for Turkey's minority Kurds from bases in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Mourners booed President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at funerals Sunday for two of the soldiers killed near the border with Iraq on Friday.

Demonstrators elsewhere waved the country's flag in front of the parliament and beat and burned effigies of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey's leaders increased demands Sunday for neighboring Iraq to do more against the Kurdish rebels based there.

"We have no support at all from the northern Iraqi administration," Gen. Hasan Igsiz told reporters in Turkey's capital, Ankara. "Our expectation is that rebels be acknowledged as a terrorist organization there and that support for the rebels be eliminated."

Erdogan helped bury one soldier, shoveling silt into the man's grave in the town of Armutlu. Mourners chanted slogans against the PKK.

"There are measures to be taken against the hideouts" of rebels in northern Iraq, Erdogan said afterward.

"We are expecting positive action on the ground" from Iraq, he added.

Turkish warplanes bombed suspected rebel bases in northern Iraq late Sunday, the military said in a statement.

Turkey has staged several airstrikes in northern Iraq this year. Ground troops also mounted a week-long offensive in Iraq in February. The mountainous terrain and the rebels' familiarity with the landscape hinder the military, although the United States increased intelligence-sharing this year to help guide Turkey in the attacks.

The deadly rebel raids pose a particular problem for Erdogan's governing Justice and Development Party, which is distrusted by the strongly secular military for its Islamist roots.

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