Iraqi Kurds accuse Turkey and Iran of attacks

TUNCELI, Turkey Fri May 21, 2010 2:13pm EDT

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TUNCELI, Turkey (Reuters) - Iraqi Kurds on Friday condemned air strikes and shellfire by Turkey and Iran on Turkish-Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq as violations of Iraqi sovereignty.

Iranian forces shelled border regions and Turkish war planes caused "huge" casualties, according to a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which runs northern Iraq autonomously from Baghdad.

Turkish military sources said Thursday's attacks on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed Turkish-Kurdish group largely based in north Iraq, were the biggest such operation in over a year and had killed four guerrillas and wounded more.

"The presidency of the Iraq Kurdistan region condemns these attacks on the border regions, and at the same time considers this a violation and aggression on the sovereignty of the Iraqi state and demands its immediate cessation," the statement said.

KRG President Massoud Barzani had been expected to visit Ankara as relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds improve, but Thursday's operations could revive tension between the two.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 to fight for an ethnic homeland for Kurds in southeast Turkey and more than 40,000 people have died in the conflict.

The rebels, who the PKK says number 7,000, have scaled back their demands and now want greater cultural and political rights for Turkey's estimated 14 million ethnic Kurds.

Turkey has called on Barzani to do more to combat the PKK, but Iraqi Kurds are reluctant to risk destabilizing northern Iraq, which has escaped much of the violence seen in the rest of the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Turkish military sources said Thursday's attacks had been aimed at underground shelters and rebels moving on foot in the remote, mountainous part of northern Iraq occupied by the PKK, straddling Iraq's borders with Iran and Turkey.

Turkey and Iran have in recent years shared intelligence and coordinated attacks on the PKK and its Iranian offshoot, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).

(Additional reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Iraq; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Tim Pearce)

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