ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish troops have shelled suspected Kurdish rebel positions in Iraq, a government official said Wednesday, as military and civilian leaders gathered to discuss the scope and duration of a cross-border incursion.
Turkish artillery units were shelling rebel positions as late as Tuesday night in northern Iraq, a government official said on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The strikes were in retaliation for a rebel ambush on Sunday that killed 12 soldiers and apparently led to the capture of eight.
The official did not say which areas were targeted and refused to give further information.
Local media have reported that Turkish jets have struck targets inside of Iraq since Sunday’s attack, but the government official denied that air power was used.
Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi, a PKK spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone that there were no Turkish attacks on PKK positions Sunday or Monday, but that they came under a helicopter assault that began Tuesday and continued Wednesday near Besta in the Chernak Mountain region inside Turkey. Kurdish officials had already confirmed the artillery attacks inside Iraq.
Al-Chadarchi said the rebels suffered no casualties, calling Turkish claims to the contrary “lies and Turkish propaganda.” He said he didn’t know if they killed or wounded any Turks.
Turkey, which has massed troops on the border, warned Iraq and Western allies on Tuesday that an attack was imminent unless the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad takes action. Officials also said there would be no cease-fire with the separatist fighters.
Turkish leaders face growing demands at home to stage an offensive in northern Iraq, where the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — the PKK — rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to conduct attacks.
A high-level delegation from Iraq was expected to visit Ankara on Thursday, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, returning late Tuesday from meetings in Baghdad, said: “We said that we are expecting them to come with concrete proposals … otherwise the visit will have no meaning.”
The U.S. issued its most direct demand yet for anti-rebel measures from Iraqi Kurds who hold effective autonomy over territory where Turkish Kurd guerrillas have camps.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered the closure of all offices belonging to the PKK in Iraq and said they would not be allowed to operate in Iraqi territory.
But Babacan said that “we need more than words. We said that preventing the PKK from using Iraqi soil, an end to logistical support and all PKK activities inside Iraq and closing of its camps are needed. We also said its leaders need to be arrested and extradited to Turkey.”
The PKK’s al-Chadarchi criticized al-Maliki, saying “it’s shameful for al-Maliki to call us terrorists while at the same time maintaining that Iraq is a democracy. He’s giving in to pressure from the Turkish regime.”
During the funerals Tuesday of 12 soldiers slain by rebels in the weekend ambush, tens of thousands mourners chanted slogans urging the government to order an incursion.
Adding to the tension is the apparent capture of eight Turkish soldiers who have been missing since Sunday’s ambush.
Several newspapers printed pictures showing the eight missing soldiers — apparently hostages in the hands of separatist rebels.
Roj TV, a pro-Kurdish station that is based in Denmark and banned in Turkey on grounds that it is a mouthpiece for Kurdish rebels, aired footage of what it said were soldiers in rebel hands. In the footage, the camera pans across eight men standing in a row in the mountains with a PKK flag as a backdrop.
Turkey seems willing to refrain from invading Iraq until at least early next month, when it is scheduled to host foreign ministers for a meeting about Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed a meeting among the United States, Iraq and Turkey during the Nov. 2-3 conference in Istanbul.