ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkish warplanes hit all their targets in weekend raids against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, the General Staff said on Monday.
Officials in northern Iraq have said the planes bombed villages, killing one woman and forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, but Turkey said it struck only targets where there were no civilians.
The United States, which fears major military action in the region could destabilise one of the most peaceful parts of Iraq, has said it was informed of the attacks in advance although it did not authorise them.
The European Union expressed concern about the air raids and urged NATO-member Turkey to show restraint.
Ankara believes some 3,000 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas are based in camps in northern Iraq from where they stage deadly attacks into Turkey.
The Turkish army has up to 100,000 troops near the Iraqi border. It was given authorisation by the cabinet last month to conduct cross-border operations against the PKK.
The three-hour offensive, reported to involve some 50 fighter jets, also included ground forces shelling suspected PKK positions in northern Iraq. “Work is continuing on assessing the damage at the targets as a result of the successfully completed operation. According to initial valuations, all the planned targets were hit accurately,” said the statement on the General Staff Web site.
The General Staff released black-white video footage of precision air strikes against suspected PKK targets.
Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad and protested against the bombing. News outlets linked to the outlawed separatists said five PKK guerrillas were killed.
The General Staff statement rejected claims that civilian targets were struck. “All the targets were identified as a result of a precise and detailed analysis and were added to the target list after it was established that they were definitely not civilian residential areas,” it said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said he wanted Ankara to coordinate future cross-border strikes with Iraq.
Armed forces chief, General Yasar Buyukanit said on Sunday that the PKK should watch its steps “as their camps are like the ‘Big Brother’ television show under our constant surveillance.” “We know the PKK’s geography as well as we know our own hands,” he said.
The United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, has begun sharing intelligence with the Turks about PKK movements inside Iraq. Washington wants to avert a large-scale Turkish ground offensive.
Analysts say a major Turkish land incursion is unlikely right now, since many Kurdish rebels have moved into Iran and weather conditions in northern Iraq are 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.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.