Iraq Condemns Turkish Airstrikes

Villagers walks through a rubble at the Qlatooka village near Iraq's border with Turkey on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007. Turkish war planes bombed Kurdish rebel targets as far as 100 kilometers (60 miles) inside northern Iraq for three hours early Sunday, in the largest aerial attack against the outlawed separatist group in recent years. An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman.
Iraq's parliament on Monday condemned the bombing of suspected Kurdish rebel bases by Turkish jets - an attack that seemed to carry tacit U.S. approval - and denounced the raid as an outrageous violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

As many as 50 Turkish fighter jets were involved in the airstrikes Sunday in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq in the biggest attack against Turkish Kurd rebels in years, Turkish media said. An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman. The rebels said two civilians and five rebels died.

"We condemn this outrageous attack on Iraq's sovereignty," Iraq's parliament said in a statement.

Turkey said the attack was aimed at rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and that U.S. intelligence had been used in the bombing. The PKK has battled for autonomy for southeastern Turkey for more than two decades and uses strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes.

"America gave intelligence," Kanal D television in Turkey quoted the nation's military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, as saying. "But more importantly, America last night opened (Iraqi) airspace to us. By opening the airspace, America gave its approval to this operation."

Washington is trying to balance support for two key allies: the Turkish government and the Iraqi Kurds. Despite their apparent support for a limited raid, the United States remains firmly opposed to any major Turkish military operation into northern Iraq - which could disrupt one of the calmest areas of Iraq and run the risk of destabilizing the entire region.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said the U.S. military had "deconflicted the air space" in Iraq for the strikes - that is, the U.S. made sure Turkey would have clear use of the skies to enable the bombings.

Another Pentagon official said the U.S. military has been sharing intelligence with Turkey, but that he did not know exactly what information was given to aid with the air strikes or when it might have been given. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said the Iraqi government had thought Turkey would coordinate with Baghdad before striking the rebels inside Iraq. He also indicated that civilian casualties showed Turkey had not hit the right targets.

"What happened yesterday was based maybe on misinformation," Zebari said.

Masoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, issued a statement condemning the attacks, which he said were "conducted with indirect U.S. approval, as defending the sovereignty of Iraq and the Kurdish region is within the Americans' responsibilities."

The State Department declined to offer any judgment on the airstrikes, but said the PKK was a threat that needed to be dealt with in a coordinated way by Turkey, Iraq and the United States.

"We face a common enemy ... from the PKK," deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

"It's a terrorist organization and we want to see actions taken to put it out of business. That said, we also want to make sure that any actions that are taken are done in an appropriate way, that hit only those targets that are PKK and avoid civilian casualties and other loss of life," he added. "We also want to make sure that what is done is coordinated to the extent possible between Turkey and Iraq."

Turkish forces have periodically shelled across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" - limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours.

Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its border with northern Iraq in response to a series of attacks by the PKK. In October, the Turkish parliament authorized the government to conduct a cross-border operation against the group.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, some Shiite residents in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora said U.S.-backed security volunteers were trying to drive them out of their neighborhoods. The volunteers, also known as awakening councils, are groups of Iraqi Sunnis that the U.S. military has backed to help fight al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies.

But Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander in Baghdad, disputed the Shiite claims, saying "we're seeing very, very little of that." Fil also said that although violence in Iraq has declined, withdrawing U.S. troops too quickly would spell failure in some parts of the capital.

In London, a British Defense Ministry report said Britain has failed to meet its own targets for reducing violence in Iraq. The report came out a day after British troops handed over control of the final southern Iraqi province under their command.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said a meeting between American and Iranian officials in Baghdad on Iraqi security will be rescheduled. It had originally been planned for Tuesday, but was canceled last week.

In other developments:

  • A top U.S. general in Iraq is warning against withdrawing American troops too quickly. Major General Joseph Fil says although violence in Iraq has declined, pulling out too soon would spell failure in some parts of Baghdad. Fil says progress made toward securing the capital in recent months is, as he puts it, "fledgling, fragile and not guaranteed." Fil spoke to a Pentagon news conference by video hookup from Baghdad. He said he's comfortable with the current plan to draw down American forces, which he said is "simply thinning the ranks" in areas "that are going well." Still, he says criminal networks remain "very potent threats" and that coalition forces are still working against militants east of the city.
  • Al Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri said in a new video posted Monday that the United States is trying to hide its failures in Iraq and warned that the mujahedeen there are increasing in strength.