Turks step up operations along border with Iraq
BAGHDAD – The Turkish military has ramped up military operations along the southern border with Iraq, with aircraft reportedly bombarding the mountainous terrain on Wednesday, part of a growing confrontation that threatens to open a new northern front in the Iraq war.
While intense diplomatic efforts continued to prevent large-scale violence, Turkish military helicopters and warplanes attacked mountain paths used by Kurdish rebels to travel between Iraq and Turkey, the Turkish state-run Anatolian News Agency reported.
The Turkish operations were taking place in four predominantly Kurdish provinces of eastern Turkey and “in the border area with Iraq,” the news agency said. An Associated Press cameraman saw helicopters and several F-16 warplanes take off from a Turkish air base in southeastern city of Diyarbakir, the news agency reported.
There were conflicting reports about exactly when and where the Turkish military carried out operations. Residents in northern Iraq described bombings Wednesday in the Mergasur area on the Turkish side of the border and said artillery shells crashed down a day earlier near several villages inside Iraq.
The reported bombing came amid pleas by U.S. and Iraqi officials that Turkey refrain from a major cross-border incursion to combat guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, a Kurdish group based in Turkey that seeks to create a Kurdish state.
“We are concerned about the continuing skirmishes that are happening up there and the terrorist attacks that are being lodged by the PKK against the Turks,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Turkey’s parliament has passed a resolution approving a military offensive into Iraq to pursue the guerrilla fighters. The prospects for such an invasion seemed to gain momentum after PKK fighters killed at least 12 Turkish soldiers in an ambush on Sunday. The PKK also claims to have captured eight Turkish soldiers, and video footage of the captives were broadcast on Iraqi and Turkish television stations.