December 17, 2007 / 3:25 PM / 12 years ago

Turkey says air strikes in Iraq hit their targets

(Recasts, adds comments from EU, UN)

By Selcuk Gokoluk

ANKARA, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Turkey said on Monday its warplanes hit their Kurdish guerrilla targets in weekend raids on northern Iraq that raised fears of destabilisation in one of Iraq’s few peaceful regions.

The EU urged Turkey to show restraint after the raids, which officials in northern Iraq said hit villages, killed one woman and forced hundreds to flee.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about reports of civilian casualties, and urged Baghdad and Ankara to work together to tackle Kurdish guerrillas using northern Iraq as a base for attacks in Turkey.

Dismissing reports the raids hit villages, Turkey’s General Staff said its targets were fixed "after it was established that they were definitely not civilian residential areas."

The three-hour offensive, reported to involve 50 fighter jets, also included ground forces shelling suspected positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

"According to initial valuations, all the planned targets were hit accurately," the General Staff said on its Web site.

The Turkish army has massed up to 100,000 troops near the border, raising fears that a major cross-border operation could further destabilise Iraq and fuel ethnic and sectarian tensions.

However, initial responses to the weekend raids from Turkey’s main allies stopped well short of condemnation. The United States, Turkey’s main military ally, has said it was informed of the raids in advance but did not authorise them.

A Pentagon spokesman also said Washington had given Turkey intelligence to track Kurdish fighters hiding in Iraq, but would not say whether it gave precise targets used in the raids.

The EU, which Turkey is hoping to join, voiced concern.

It called on Turkey "to exercise restraint, to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq and refrain from taking any military action that could undermine regional peace and stability."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban "is concerned that Turkey has launched air strikes into northern Iraq yesterday and that there have been reports of possible civilian casualties," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

"At the same time the Secretary-General is concerned at the continued intrusion of PKK elements carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq," she added.



MAJOR LAND INCURSION UNLIKELY

Ankara believes 3,000 PKK guerrillas are based in camps in northern Iraq and the government has come under domestic pressure to act tough after a series of deadly attacks against Turkish army posts in recent months.

The General Staff released black and white footage of what it said were precision air strikes against PKK targets, which the Turkish media said included a PKK communications centre in the Qandil mountains and other important PKK camps.

Analysts doubt air strikes will crush the PKK, but say they are symbolically important.

Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad and protested against the bombing.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said he wanted Ankara to coordinate future cross-border strikes with Iraq.

The PKK warned the Iraqi government and the United States not to cooperate with Turkey in its attacks, and said it could hurt Western interests in the Middle East.

"If colonialist powers in Kurdistan are continued to be supported, it should be known that the Kurdish people have the power to spoil the balances in the Middle East and hurt the interests of Western powers," the PKK said in a statement carried by the Firat news agency.

Analysts say a major Turkish land incursion is unlikely right now, since many Kurdish rebels have moved into Iran and the weather in northern Iraq is worsening.

Ankara blames the PKK, which seeks a separate Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey, for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it began its armed struggle in 1984. (Reporting by Daren Butler and Paul de Bendern; Editing by Myra MacDonald)



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