Turkey kills 34 Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq

Turkey has carried out air sorties and shelling against Kurdish positions inside northern Iraq.

Reuters said Turkish war planes flew as deep as 20km into Iraqi territory and about 300 ground troops advanced about 10km, killing 34 fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).

”Further ‘hot pursuit’ raids into northern Iraq can be expected, though none have taken place so far today,” a military official said, adding that all Turkish troops involved in the operations in the past few days were now back in Turkey.

Officials said the sorties were small, similar to those conducted in the past across the mountainous border, not the large-scale offensive that US and Iraqi authorities are trying to avert.

Turkish troops also shelled suspected Kurdish positions across the border as recently as last night, the Associated Press reported.

The reports of small-scale raids into northern Iraq came as Turkey’s civilian and military leaders met to discuss the scope and duration of a possible large-scale offensive, amid mounting pressure for action.

Several newspapers printed pictures of eight missing soldiers, allegedly held hostage by the separatist fighters. During funerals for 12 soldiers Tuesday, tens of thousands of mourners chanted slogans, urging the government to order an offensive against Kurdish fighters.

The Turkish national security council, under the chairmanship of the president, Abdullah Gul, was due to discuss possible economic measures against Iraqi Kurdistan as a way of putting pressure on the PKK.

”The prime minister has indicated this meeting could produce economic sanctions — for example, cutting off electricity to northern Iraq or the closure or slowing down of traffic at the Habur border gate,” Suat Kiniklioglu, an MP from the ruling AK party, told Reuters.

Northern Iraq depends heavily on Turkey for power, water and food supplies. The Turkish government has frequently voiced its exasperation at the failure of the US and the Iraqi authorities to crack down on Kurdish rebels operating out of northern Iraq. Sanctions against the Iraqi Kurds would be designed to make them tackle the PKK.

US officials on Tuesday publicly rebuked Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq for failing to curb the Kurdish fighters based in the autonomous region.

”We are not pleased with the lack of action,” David Satterfield, the US state department’s senior Iraq adviser, told reporters in Washington.

He said Kurdish leaders had to take responsibility for dealing with the fighters, although he did not go as far as calling on them to take military action against the PKK.

Pressure on the Iraqi government to rein in the fighters is causing friction between Baghdad and the PKK, which has criticised the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for labelling the movement as terrorist.

”It’s shameful for al-Maliki to call us terrorists while at the same time maintaining that Iraq is a democracy,” said a PKK spokesperson. ”He’s giving in to pressure from the Turkish regime.

Turkey, which has Nato’s second biggest army, has deployed as many as 100 000 troops, backed by tanks, F16 fighter jets and helicopter gunships, along the mountainous border in preparation for a possible large-scale incursion.

Turkey’s Parliament last week approved a military attack, and the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Tuesday his country ”cannot wait forever” to strike at the PKK.

The European Union today repeated its condemnation of attacks on Turkey launched by Kurdish fighters hiding across the border in Iraq, but urged Turkey and Iraq to work out joint measures to end the hostilities.

Turkey is negotiating to join the EU and the Turkish government has to consider the damage that military action could inflict on accession talks. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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