ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) – Turkish troops have begun shelling areas across the Iraqi border in the autonomous Kurdish region, an Iraqi officer said on Sunday, as Ankara prepared to seek MPs’ approval for a ground incursion.
“The shelling began on Saturday night around 10 pm (1900 GMT),” the officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It carried on sporadically,” he said, adding that the shells had struck vacant areas without causing any casualties.
A witness said the shells hit around villages in the Al-Amadiyah area about 15 kilometres (9.5 miles) from the frontier and 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of the town of Dohuk.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he was ready to brave international censure should his country decide to deal ruthlessly with Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq.
A government bill seeking the go-ahead to launch an incursion any time in the next year is expected to be submitted to parliament after a cabinet meeting on Monday.
Wahid Kista, 42, who lives in the village of Kista near the Iraq-Turkey frontier, said by telephone the shelling was targeting villages in the Metin mountain area “where the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has bases.”
A spokesman for the PKK in Iraq, Abdul Rahman al-Jadershi, confirmed the shelling but said that reports the rebel group is crossing into Turkey to launch attacks “are not correct.”
“We have not left Kurdistan nor are we hitting Turkish targets from Kurdistan … The other operations are being carried out by our members in Turkey,” he told AFP by telephone.
“Turkey is deploying forces near the border but we are ready to respond and have taken positions.”
The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq has warned Turkey against making good its threat to mount a cross-border incursion.
Iraqi and Turkish officials met in Baghdad on Friday in an attempt to reduce tensions.
A terse statement from the Iraqi government gave few details of what Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim and ambassador Derya Kanbay discussed, but the meeting came after both the European Union and the United States urged dialogue.
The two men discussed “means of developing relations between the two friendly countries in the field of combating terror and exchange of information,” the statement said.
Considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK unleashed an independence struggle in Turkey in 1984 that has killed more than 37,000 people.
Turkey and Iraq signed an accord last month to combat the PKK, but failed to agree on a clause allowing Turkish troops to engage in “hot pursuit” against rebels fleeing into Iraqi territory, as they did regularly in the 1990s.
Ankara charges the PKK has used bases in northern Iraq to launch a renewed offensive inside Turkey that saw 15 soldiers killed last week.
Turkey also claims Iraqi Kurds support the PKK with arms and explosives, which the regional government strongly denies.