SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AFP) – Turkish planes bombed suspected rebel bases in northern Iraq on Sunday, killing one woman, damaging infrastructure and forcing villagers to flee, local officials said.
Turkey’s general staff said its warplanes had hit the “regions of Zap, Hakurk and Avasin as well as the Qandil mountains” — known to harbour rear bases of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Turkish military said the bombardment began at 1:00 am (2300 GMT Saturday) and all its aircraft had returned safely to base by 4:15 am (0215 GMT Sunday). Artillery continued to pound the targets once the planes left.
The raids, which Turkey’s armed forces’ chief said were carried out with US approval and intelligence, were condemned by the Iraqi government, which called in the Turkish ambassador to explain his country’s actions.
“This attack has destroyed hospitals, schools and bridges. We demand that Turkish authorities stop such actions against innocents,” deputy foreign minister Mahmoud al-Hajj Humoud said in a statement late Sunday.
Turkey’s army chief General Yasar Buyukanit said the air strikes had been carried out with Washington’s approval and using US military intelligence, the Anatolia news agency reported.
“The United States gave intelligence,” General Buyukanit was quoted as telling the private television channel Kanal D.
“But what is more important is that the United States last night opened northern Iraqi airspace to us. By doing that, the United States approved the operation,” Buyukanit said.
“The PKK should watch its step. It should not forget that, for us, its camps and movement in northern Iraq are like a ‘Big Brother’ show,” the general said, referring to the popular reality TV show.
US President George W. Bush last month said Washington would provide Ankara with “real-time” information on rebel movements from its satellites.
In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed a “successful” operation.
“Last night, the Turkish armed forces carried out a comprehensive air strike against targets of the terrorist organisation in northern Iraq,” he said in a televised speech.
“I am satisfied to say that, according to our preliminary evaluations, the operation, undertaken under night conditions, was successful.”
The air strikes killed a woman and seriously wounded five other civilians but inflicted no losses on the PKK, the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported from Iraq.
“A woman was martyred and five people were heavily wounded” in the village of Leejuwa near the Qandil mountains, Democratic Communities of Kurdistan (KCK) spokesman Ferman Garzan was quoted as saying on its Internet site.
The KCK is an umbrella organisation bringing together the PKK and affiliate groups.
The village was badly damaged in the bombing and two school buildings were destroyed, Garzan said.
“There are no losses on the guerrilla side,” he added.
The Iraqi Kurdish militia that provides security in north Iraq said that according to preliminary reports, eight Turkish warplanes bombed villages along the border near the Qandil mountains.
“Some families are fleeing from the villages attacked today. We have dispatched our border teams to check the casualties and damage,” said a spokesman, Jabbar Yawar.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan denied any civilian areas had been hit.
“You should trust statements made by the Turkish armed forces,” he said in televised remarks.
The PKK, which has waged a deadly insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984, said the strikes lasted eight hours.
“An air strike by scores of warplanes and artillery attacks took place against PKK positions,” the group said on its Internet site, adding that the raid followed a month of reconnaissance flights by US planes.
The air strikes were at least the second Turkish operation against the PKK inside Iraq this month. Turkish helicopters pounded suspected rebel bases on December 1.
Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek warned Turkey would launch more cross-border strikes if necessary.
“The government, working in harmony with all state institutions, primarily the armed forces, is determined to take this scourge off the country’s agenda,” the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.
The Turkish parliament authorised cross-border operations in October, but Ankara has so far held back from any ground assault amid strong lobbying by Washington.