SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – Turkish helicopter gunships attacked abandoned villages inside Iraq on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said, in the first such strike since border tensions have escalated in recent months.
A spokesman for the Kurdish regional administration, Jamal Abdullah, denied the report but said two Turkish warplanes dropped flares Monday in the mountains near Zakhu.
But Col. Hussein Tamir, an Iraqi army officer who supervises border guards, said the airstrikes occurred before dawn on abandoned villages northeast of Zakhu, an Iraqi Kurdish town near the border with Turkey. There were no casualties, he said.
A spokesman for the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, corroborated Tamir’s account of the airstrikes, and said sporadic clashes had been taking place inside Turkey since late Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Witnesses also said the Turkish bombing lasted a half hour in the villages.
“I was on the other side of the mountain when I heard huge explosions and could smell TNT powder all over the area,” said shepherd Ibrahim Mazori, 53. He said he sometimes spends a night or two in the villages while tending his sheep.
Iraqi officials said helicopter gunships were responsible for the morning raids, while Turkish media reported warplanes were involved.
It was the first major Turkish action against Kurdish rebels since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met President Bush in Washington earlier this month. The United States and Iraq have pressured Turkey to avoid a large-scale attack on rebel bases in northern Iraq, fearing such an operation would destabilize what has been the calmest region in the country.
U.S. authorities have agreed to share intelligence about positions of Kurdish rebels with Turkey, possibly enabling the Turkish military to carry out limited assaults.
Meanwhile, Kurdish guerrillas killed four Turkish soldiers in a clash Tuesday in southeastern Turkey, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said.
More than 50 Turkish troops have been killed in a series of hit-and-run attacks by Kurdish rebels since late September. Turkey says it has killed dozens of rebels.