ANKARA/SULAIMANIYA (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish guerrilla targets in northern Iraq on Wednesday, Turkey’s general staff said, in the fourth such cross-border raid in five days.
NATO member Turkey says it has the right under international law to hit rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who take shelter in northern Iraq and have mounted attacks inside Turkey that have killed dozens of troops in recent months.
The Turkish military said its offensive against the outlawed PKK inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq would continue. Tensions over northern Iraq helped send oil up to $96 a barrel, a one-month high.
“Fighter jets belonging to the Turkish armed forces successfully hit targets belonging to the terrorist organisation in the early hours of December 26,” the General Staff said.
Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Peshmerga security forces of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, said the strike lasted about an hour in a mountainous border region of Dahuk province and inflicted no casualties.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed by warplanes, artillery and tanks, near its mountainous border with Iraq.
Turkey’s government authorised the military in November to launch cross-border operations following what it said were insufficient steps by Iraqi authorities against the PKK.
Iraqi Kurdish officials have asked Ankara to stop the raids and said civilians have been killed in the raids. Turkey said it hits only PKK targets.
The Iraqi government and U.S. forces say they support Turkey’s right to strike at the PKK, who yearn for a separate Kurdish homeland, but want any action to be coordinated with them and small in scale to avoid destabilising northern Iraq.
In a separate incident, six PKK members were killed in clashes with troops in the Turkish border province of Sirnak on Wednesday, the military said in a statement.
Turkish aircraft also struck targets across northern Iraq on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. The campaign began with a larger bombing raid on December 16 that killed more than 150 PKK guerrillas, according to the military.
The United States, which must tread carefully to balance its regional interests, has begun providing Turkey with intelligence on the PKK in northern Iraq after coming under pressure from Ankara for failing to crack down on the rebels.
“Everything is right on track, we are both pleased (with the intelligence sharing),” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters the United States was helping Turkey and Iraq counter a “destabilizing” force.
“We’ve also made it clear to the Turkish government that anything that could lead to escalated concerns, or civilian casualties, we have concerns about those steps,” he said.
“But the Iraqis don’t want terrorists in their country and the PKK is a destabilizing force in the northern part of Iraq, so we continue to work collaboratively both with Iraq and Turkey on these issues.”
Analysts say a major Turkish land incursion is very unlikely now because many Kurdish rebels have moved into neighbouring countries and weather conditions in northern Iraq are worsening.
Ankara blames the PKK — considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union — for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it began an armed struggle for a separate Kurdish homeland in 1984.
Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Istanbul and Peter Graff in Baghdad, writing by Paul de Bendern; editing by Robert Woodward