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Turkey Launches New Attack On Iraq

Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Saturday in the third confirmed cross-border offensive by Turkish forces in less than a week, the military said.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said it was informed before the assault took place, but gave no further information. The United States and Iraq both have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation in the area, fearing it could destabilize what has been the calmest region in Iraq.

The bombing lasted nearly a half-hour on Saturday afternoon, and was followed by shelling from inside Turkish borders, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site. It did not say how deep into Iraqi territory the warplanes penetrated, or which areas were shelled.

Security forces in northern Iraq said the bombs fell about 75 miles northwest of Dahuk. There were no casualties reported, said Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga security forces in northern Iraq.

It vowed to continue military operations on both sides of Turkish-Iraqi border "no matter how the conditions are."

Turkish jet fighters on Dec. 16 launched the first confirmed air assault on Iraqi soil since the U.S.-led invasion, bombing bases in northern Iraq held by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Two days after the first air assault, Turkey sent hundreds of troops into northern Iraq, but withdrew them later in the day. The military said the two operations dealt a major blow to the rebels.

In Saturday's statement, it said hundreds were killed in the operations, citing "intelligence gathered from various sources." It said footage showing the results of the operations would be released in coming days.

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

The rebels have battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades, and use strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes.

After a surge in rebel attacks in the past months, Turkey has said it can no longer tolerate the attacks on its troops, and in October Turkey's Parliament authorized the military to strike back at the rebels inside Iraq.

"The terrorist organization of the PKK will see and understand that there is no secure place left Iraq's north, and it will understand that it has no chances against the Turkish Republic," the Turkish statement said.

In a Nov. 5 meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Bush declared the PKK a "common enemy," and promised to share intelligence on the group.

Washington has been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after the rebels, and a coordination center has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information.

But the U.S. Embassy declined to say whether American intelligence was involved in Saturday's offensive.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 1,800 people fled their homes in parts of northern Iran, and Iraqi officials have complained that Turkey's actions are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. They have also said they recognize the threat posed by the PKK.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's Shiite-led government declared Saturday that after restive areas are calmed it will disband Sunni groups battling Islamic extremists because it does not want them to become a separate military force. The statement from Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi was the government's most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.
  • A suicide car bomb exploded at a checkpoint manned by Iraqi army and police in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah Saturday afternoon, killing four people and wounding six, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information to the media. The dead were two civilians, a policeman and a soldier, while the wounded included two policemen and two soldiers, the officers said.
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