Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Turkish troops enter Iraq after PKK attacks
Ankara sends air-supported ground troops into northern Iraq's Kurdish region after PKK attacks kill 26 Turkish soldiers.
Al Jazeera
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2011 13:15

Turkish President Gul (far left) issued a warning after the attacks, saying the response would be "immense" [Reuters]

Turkish forces have launched an incursion into the mountains of northern Iraq following simultaneous attacks by Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey that killed at least 26 soldiers.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long separatist struggle against Ankara, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday.

A security source said the attacks targeted police and military installations in several locations in Cukurca and Yuksekova in Hakkari province near the border with northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The Turkish army responded with an air-supported operation against the fighters in Iraq's northern Qandil mountains, with both airstrikes and soldiers on the ground employed.

"As of now, wide reaching operations, including hot pursuit operations, are continuing in the region within the framework of international law," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Speaking on Turkish television, Erdogan appealed for calm from the Turkish people, and said that it was "very clear that this terrorist organisation [the PKK] is a piece in the hands of certain powers". He did not elaborate on who those "powers" were.

Erdogan has cancelled a trip to Kazakhstan, while Ahmet Davutoglu, his foreign minister, called off a diplomatic visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, took a firm stance on Turkey's right to respond.

"No one should forget that those who make us suffer this pain will be made to suffer even stronger,'' he told reporters
on Wednesday. "They will see that the vengeance for these attacks will be immense."

Anders Fogh-Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the PKK attacks in a statement released on Wednesday.

'Grinding conflict'

Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said fighting was believed to have started after midnight and was still under way.

"There are still pockets of fighting going on as the Turkish military belatedly floods the area with reinforcements and tries to find out exactly where these attacks were launched from and who was behind them," our correspondent said.

McNaught said that Turkish incursions into Iraq were not unprecedented. Turkey's parliament recently extended a mandate for Turkish forces to mount operations in northern Iraq, which Turkey says the PKK uses as a base for operations into Turkey.

The Turkish government also has an acceptance agreement with the Iraqi government to allow for such "hot pursuit" operations.

However, both the central government in Baghdad, and the regional Kurdish authorities, have condemned the Turkish raids as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

"It's part of an ongoing, grinding, almost endless conflict in Turkey's southeast." our correspondent said.

A spokesman for the PKK told the AFP news agency that Turkish troops had attempted to cross the Iraqi border at Jeli in the Hakkari region.

Landmine explosion
The deaths come a day after a landmine explosion, also in the southeast, killed eight people in an attack which security sources also blamed on Kurdish fighters.

Al Jazeera's McNaught said the latest attacks appeared to be a response to the Turkish military's announcement on September 30 of the re-establishing of "temporary security zones" in 15 separate locations across the southeast, which restrict civilian access.

"It's the scale of the attacks that's significant ... this is the most serious string of fatalities, the most co-ordinated and deadly attack launched by the PKK in some considerable length of time," she reported.

On Tuesday, a mine planted on a rural road in the Guroymak district of Bitlis province in the mainly Kurdish area, was detonated by remote control as a police car was passing by, the Anatolia news agency quoted governor Nurettin Yilmaz as saying.

Five policemen and three civilians, including a two-year-old girl, were killed in Tuesday's attack. Three injured people were being treated at an intensive care unit.

Security forces combed the area in search of the assailants, believed to be members of the PKK.

Kurdish fighters have carried out a string of attacks in southeastern Turkey in recent months, killing more than 50 Turkish nationals since July and prompting retaliatory air raids on PKK targets in northern Iraq.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms for an autonomous state in 1984, starting a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives

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