TURKEY praised the United States on Wednesday for providing intelligence in support of attacks against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, as it confirmed its third such air strike in 10 days.
‘Things are going on well at the moment. Intelligence is being shared’ between the two NATO allies, Anatolia news agency quoted President Abdullah Gul as saying.
US support ‘befits our alliance,’ Gul said, adding: ‘Both of us are satisfied. This is how it should be. We could have come to this point earlier.’
But the White House expressed concern to Ankara over the possible escalation of Turkey’s attacks inside Iraq, especially ‘anything that could lead to many civilian casualties,’ spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
Wednesday’s air strike was the third against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq that the military has confirmed since December 16, in addition to cross-border ground operations.
The raid followed intelligence that ‘a large group of terrorists, who have been watched for a long time, are preparing to pass the winter in eight caves and hideouts in the Zap region,’ the general staff said in a statement.
‘Our warplanes hit the targets in an effective air raid that started in the morning hours of December 26,’ it said, without mentioning casualties.
Officials in Kurdish-run northern Iraq said the strike targeted deserted villages along the border, but the extent of the damage was not known.
The aircraft struck an area called Nirvorokan in Dohuk province at around 8.30am (0530 GMT), they said, while a news agency close to the PKK reported that some 10 warplanes took part in the raid.
Iraqi Kurds have reported two other air strikes this month that Turkey has not confirmed, including a brief one on Tuesday.
The Turkish general staff said six PKK militants were killed on Wednesday in mountains inside Turkey near the Iraqi frontier, bringing to 11 the death toll from a two-day security operation in the area. Two rebels were captured.
Faced with mounting PKK violence and exasperated by the safe haven which Ankara says the rebels enjoy in northern Iraq, the government secured in October a one-year parliamentary authorisation for cross-border strikes.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Ankara says an estimated 3,500 PKK militants have taken refuge in northern Iraq, using camps there as a springboard for attacks across the border.
At least 150 rebels were killed on December 16 in the largest air strike in northern Iraq so far, when fighter jets bombed positions along the Turkish border and in the Qandil mountains to the east, the military said on Tuesday.
The strike, it said, destroyed more than 200 PKK targets, including command, training and logistical bases as well as anti-aircraft defence positions and ammunition depots.
Following talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November, US President George W Bush called the PKK a common enemy and promised ‘real-time’ intelligence on the rebel movement.
‘The PKK is a terrorist organisation,’ Stanzel said. ‘The Iraqis don’t want terrorists in their country and the PKK is a destabilising force in the northern part of Iraq. So we continue to work collaboratively, both with Iraq and Turkey, on these issues.’
But Washington fears that a large cross-border operation by the Turkish military might destabilise the relatively peaceful northern part of Iraq.
The Pentagon said last week a coordination centre was set up in Ankara where Turkish and US military officials are working to share intelligence.
Meanwhile a bomb blast in Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, that killed a woman and injured six other people on Wednesday has been blamed on PKK militants.
Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler claimed the blast was caused by a ‘percussion bomb planted by the separatist terrorist organisation,’ official code for the PKK, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi president’s party official has said that the Kurds need US support ‘more than ever’.
He made his remarks on a live broadcast by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) owned Kurdistan satellite TV on 26 December.
The executive council chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Political Bureau, Mala Bakhtyar, was addressing reporters in Salah al-Din, north of Arbil.
Bakhtyar said he was present at a meeting between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Kurdistan Region President Mas’ud Barzani, the PUK and the KDP Political Bureaus and the US ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker, held earlier on 26 December.
He said the meeting was still ongoing.
Asked whether it was time for the Kurds to question its ‘alliance’ with the US and quit calling it an ally altogether, Bakhtiyar said: ‘The Kurds now, more than ever, are in need of such a support, since there are regional pressures and interventions.
‘I believe that, apart from the unity of our ranks and our efforts elsewhere in Iraq, only the international support can guarantee addressing these pressures.’
Asked about the US support for the Turkish shelling of the Kurdistan Region, Bakhtiyar said: ‘It is obvious that the US supported the shelling.
‘We were concerned right from the beginning that the problems would lead up to fighting and that subsequently this will affect areas deep inside Kurdistan.’
Bakhtiyar also said that the Kurdish political leadership had ‘in principle’ agreed to depend on the results of the 2005 elections in Kirkuk for ‘resolving Article 140’ on the normalisation of the status of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, but maintained that ‘a final decision on the issue was not yet made’.
Also, In his office at parliament, the parliament Deputy Speaker Dr Kamal Kirkuki received a US delegation that included General Jay Garner and Colonel Nab.
During the meeting, which was also attended by the head of the Kurdish Institute in Washington, Dr Najmaddin Karim, the work that has been carried out towards the implementation of Article 140 as well as the obstacles on the path of its implementation, were reviewed and discussed.
All the participants in the meeting held the unanimous view that Article 140 is a constitutional article that has been supported by the votes of 80 per cent of the Iraqi people and that there are no excuses for any reservation about the implementation of this article. Failure to implement this article means showing disrespect to the principles of democracy.
The parliament deputy Speaker stressed his view that the Iraqi government must implement Article 140 without allowing any external intervention in order to demonstrate their good will towards the Kurdish people, and the areas that have been separated from Kurdistan by the former Ba’ath regime must be reintegrated with the administration of Kurdistan Region.