ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) – Turkey bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts in Iraq on Saturday in retaliation for attacks that killed 11 of its soldiers, prompting the rebels to threaten to take their fight into Turkish cities.
The threat from the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came after Turkish air raids, which were in response to a rebel attack on an army post that killed nine. A mine explosion also occurred near the border with Iraq that killed two soldiers.
“We will take our operations to all Turkish cities if the government continues its attacks against us,” PKK spokesman Ahmed Denis told AFP in the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital of Arbil.
“Turkey wants to take us towards war,” he said. “She is not sincere in dealing with the Kurdish issue and doesn’t want to deal with this issue peacefully.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the attack on the army post as “cowardly” and vowed that it would have no effect on his country’s determination to fight the PKK “to the end”.
The PKK had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack which killed nine soldiers at a military post near the city of Semdinli close to the Iraqi border.
Later Saturday, two soldiers were killed by a remote-controlled mine while engaged in operations to capture Kurdish rebels infiltrating across the border.
The PKK often lays mines aimed at Turkish forces and civilians suspected of working for them.
“Turkish warplanes have started to attack the Khwakorek district inside Iraqi territory,” Denis said, adding that he had no information on the number of casualties.
The Turkish military responded with helicopters to the army post attack and killed 12 rebels, the army said in a statement.
Turkish fighter jets then launched a raid targeting PKK rebel positions in northern Iraq where the separatists have rear bases, the military said.
In a message of condolence to the head of the armed forces, Erdogan emphasised that Turkey was willing to “pay the price” to “annihilate” the PKK.
The attacks prompted popular indignation, with many cultural and sporting events nationwide cancelled as a mark of public mourning.
On Friday the Turkish military announced that at least 130 members of the PKK had been killed inside Turkey and in air raids on rebel hideouts in Iraq since violence flared anew in March. The military had lost 43 personnel.
The military also said it expected the PKK to further intensify and spread its attacks.
The mounting violence in recent months has clouded the government’s bid to seek a peaceful end to the 26-year-old conflict with Kurdish rebels seeking a separate homeland in the country’s southeast.
The prime minister on Friday charged the PKK was seeking to undermine the government initiative to boost Kurdish freedoms and investment in the impoverished southeast in a bid to peacefully end the conflict.
The so-called “Kurdish opening,” announced last year, has faltered amid an opposition outcry that Ankara is bowing to the PKK, as well as persistent rebel attacks and a judicial onslaught on Kurdish activists.
But Erdogan said Saturday that “Turkey will not give in to the spiral of violence” unleased by the PKK rebels.
“We will not turn back on our commitment to democratisation which hinders the terrorist organisation,” he said in a statement.
PKK spokesman Denis called the government measures “just a hoax.”
The conflict with the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, has claimed more than 45,000 lives since it began in 1984, according to the army.