SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, (Reuters) – Turkish warplanes targeting Kurdish rebels bombed villages deep in northern Iraq on Sunday, killing one woman and forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, local officials said.
In Ankara, the Turkish military’s General Staff said in a statement its warplanes had attacked targets of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which uses northern Iraq as a base from which to attack security forces inside Turkey.
Turkey’s NTV television station said 50 aircraft had taken part in the operation.
Turkish ground forces have also been shelling the area where the guerrillas are believed to be operating, the military statement said.
Pro-separatist Roj TV, quoting PKK sources, said five PKK guerrillas were killed in the overnight bombardment. It was not clear whether they died in the air strikes or shelling.
The death of the woman was the first reported civilian fatality since Turkey stepped up shelling and air strikes on suspected PKK bases in the Qandil mountains in October.
The mayor of Sankasar town, north of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, Abdullah Ibrahim, said 200 families had fled their homes in villages in the Sankasar and Jarawa administrative areasand at least 10 houses had been destroyed.
Commenting on the air strikes, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said his government was determined to use every kind of instrument in the fight against terrorism — diplomatic, political and military. “We will continue to wage this battle for our nation’s unity and peace, both inside and outside Turkey,” he said in televised comments made during a visit to the Aegean port of Izmir.
The mayors of Jarawa and Sankasar said the air strikes were launched at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and continued for several hours. The villages targeted are about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Turkish border.
The mayors said one woman was killed and at least two people wounded. Fouad Hussein, head of the Kurdistan president’s office, confirmed the death and condemned the attack as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
“Warplanes of the Turkish air force conducted a comprehensive air campaign against targets belonging to the terrorist PKK-Kongra Gel organisation in the Qandil mountains from 0100 this morning,” the Turkish military statement said. “The operations solely target the … terrorist movement. They are not conducted against people living in northern Iraq or local groups not engaged in enemy activity.”
Ankara has massed up to 100,000 troops near the mountainous border with northern Iraq, along with tanks and artillery.
Turkey says it has the right to defend itself under international law and stage cross-border attacks into northern Iraq against an estimated 3,000 PKK rebels hiding there. The Turkish cabinet authorised the armed forces to conduct a cross-border operation in late November.
Analysts say a major Turkish incursion does not appear imminent, arguing that many Kurdish rebels have moved into neighbouring Iran and that weather conditions in northern Iraq are worsening, making a large-scale military strike difficult.
Washington fears such an attack would create chaos in Iraq’s most stable region and possibly further afield.
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.