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Turkey's military attacks Kurdish rebel targets in Iraq, vows more strikes
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' Turkey's air force attacked 60 suspected Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, the military said Thursday, and it vowed to continue the assault until the guerrilla group is "rendered ineffective."
The attacks, which also involved 168 rounds of artillery, occurred in the largely mountainous region near the Turkey-Iraq border and on Mount Qandil on the Iraqi-Iranian border, where the leaders of the rebel group Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, are believed to be hiding, the military said in a statement.
No casualties were reported by the Turkish military, Kurdish media or Iraqi Kurdish security forces in Wednesday's air strikes, which Turkish media said involved laser guided missiles.
In Baghdad, Iraq's government objected to the attacks, but also said rebels should not launch attacks from its territory aimed at Turkey.
The Turkish assault was in retaliation for an ambush by the autonomy-seeking rebels on a Turkish military convoy Wednesday that killed eight soldiers and a village guard helping the troops. The military said 15 other soldiers were wounded.
Nearly 40 soldiers have been killed in stepped-up PKK strikes since July. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hinted at a major operation against the rebels, saying Turkey has had enough of it. The clashes also have killed about 10 rebels.
Many PKK guerrillas shelter in the mountains of Iraq, crossing the border into Turkey for hit-and-run assaults. The group, which is fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey, is considered a terrorist organization by both the European Union and United States.
Turkey has carried out several cross-border airstrikes and ground incursions to fight the PKK in Iraq over the last few years. But Wednesday's was the military's first offensive into northern Iraq since last summer, when Turkish planes carried out a series of similar retaliatory raids on suspected rebel hideouts across the border.
"The Turkish armed forces will continue with similar actions inside and outside of Turkey with determination, until the north of Iraq becomes a secure, livable area and the separatist organization which uses it as a base for attacks on Turkey is rendered ineffective," the military said on its website.
A Kurdish news agency that is close to the rebels said the jets pounded "empty fields" and there were no PKK casualties.
Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish security forces, the Peshmerga, said there were no causalities among civilians and no damages from the bombings that concentrated in the mountains of Choman, Qandil and Amadia.
The raid is expected to escalate tensions in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, where frequent clashes and violent protests have undercut reconciliation efforts.
Last year, Turkey declared it was taking steps toward granting more rights for Kurds in an effort to reduce support for the rebels and end the decades of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Kurdish rebels, however, accused Turkey of ignoring demands for autonomy, freedom for imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, an unconditional amnesty for rebel commanders and permission for Kurdish-language education in schools.
Last month an umbrella Kurdish group that includes a Kurdish party proclaimed Kurdish autonomy in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, in an act of defiance against the government, which views it as a threat to national unity.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's spokesman said the government "denounces any attack against Iraq's sovereignty," but "at the same time it also denounces any terrorist attacks launched by such groups against the neighboring countries."
Iraqi officials have been loath to criticize Turkey too harshly on how it deals with the rebels. While they do not like the idea of any foreign government infringing on Iraqi airspace and territory, they have little ability to protect their own borders. The central Iraqi government in Baghdad holds no sway over security in the Kurdish Autonomous Region in the north where the rebels operate.
Turkey also is one of Iraq's major trading partners and holds great influence in the Kurdish region as well as the rest of Iraq. Kurdish officials, who are eager to strengthen bonds with Turkey, have in the past called on the rebels to lay down their arms but they're also hesitant to actively go after their fellow Kurds.
Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.