Turkish air strike kills two Iraqis - Kurdistan official

BAGHDAD/ANKARA Wed Nov 7, 2012 4:37pm GMT

BAGHDAD/ANKARA (Reuters) - Two Iraqi civilians were killed and three wounded in a Turkish air strike in Iraqi Kurdistan during the latest operation targeting Kurdish PKK separatist rebels sheltering there, a Kurdistan official said on Wednesday.

The strike on Tuesday hit a village near Rania, close to the remote mountains of Kurdistan in northern Iraq where rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been based in their 28-year-old guerrilla war against Turkish forces.

"Two civilians were killed and three more wounded in a village in Rania by a Turkish air strike," said Jabbar Yawar, secretary general for Kurdistan's Peshmerga military forces.

The past few months have seen some of the heaviest fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK since the militants took up arms in 1984. Turkish fighter jets and attack helicopters have bombarded the rebels on both sides of the Iraqi border.

Turkish ground forces carried out a two-day cross-border operation targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq on November 5-6, Turkish media reported on Wednesday.

Turkey's military, which rarely talks to the media, could not immediately be reached to confirm the reports. But the Peshmerga's Yawar denied any Turkish forces had crossed the Iraqi border.

Broadcaster NTV said Turkish commandos had gone up to 5 km (3 miles) into Iraq to target camps belonging to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants. It said the offensive, which followed a Turkish air operation in the area, was finished.

Turkey's parliament last month extended by a year a mandate allowing the government to send troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK fighters, despite objections from Baghdad.

The mandate was first passed in 2007 and has been extended every year since, permitting the army to enter Iraq to strike the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

Turkey most recently sent ground forces into Iraq in 2008 and has an estimated 1,000 troops based there under an agreement with Iraq dating from the 1990s.

Relations between Turkey and Iraq have cooled sharply in recent months over mutual charges of sectarianism, and Baghdad last month asked Turkey to stop attacking the PKK on its territory.

More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have been killed in almost three decades of violence since the PKK began fighting to try to carve out a separate state.

Turkey's parliament last month also authorised the government to send troops into Syria, Turkey's southern neighbour, in response to shelling by President Bashar al-Assad's forces of Turkish territory that had killed civilians.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Assad's crackdown on a popular uprising, has accused Syria's government of backing the PKK in its recent escalation of attacks.

(Additional reporting by Baghdad Newsroom; Writing by Jonathon Burch and Patrick Markey; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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