Turkey denies Iraq bombings
Turkey's prime minister denied on Wednesday carrying out aerial strikes this week against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, but the government reaffirmed its readiness for a cross-border operation if deemed necessary.
"All the operations that have taken place have been within the borders of Turkey, there have been no cross-border operations," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters, reinforcing earlier comments by the head of Turkey's air force.
The Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq has also denied the reports, sourced by Turkish media to Iraqi officials, that Turkish attack helicopters and warplanes seeking Kurdistan Workers Party rebels bombed empty villages on Tuesday morning.
The United States poured cold water on the reports as well. "As far as we know, there were no cross border operations ... no air strikes, as had been reported," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
NATO-member Turkey, which risks losing credibility if it fails to make good on repeated threats of cross-border military action, has staged limited raids in the past month across the mountainous frontier against the rebels.
On Tuesday, security sources said Turkey sent special forces to the border to join up to 100,000 troops for a possible cross-border incursion to root out the rebels, blamed by Ankara for a series of deadly attacks on its security personnel.
Erdogan has said a military operation is still planned, despite logistical difficulties as the winter closes in across the rugged mountainous region.
Last week, he urged U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington to crack down on the estimated 3,000 fighters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
"It is not possible to get results in three to five days, but we are following the developments in northern Iraq closely," Erdogan said Wednesday evening.
Bush said he was committed to countering the militants and offered to share intelligence with Turkey, a NATO ally.
Speaking in parliament in Ankara on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said intelligence sharing with the Americans on the PKK operating in northern Iraq had begun.
"The intelligence sharing is important, it has started to be implemented," Babacan told parliament's budget committee.
Turkey's parliament approved last month a government request to be able to launch military cross-border operations into northern Iraq against the PKK.
"Nobody should doubt that parliamentary resolution will be used at the most appropriate and effective time," Babacan said, reiterating previous pledges made by Erdogan.
"All orders given after the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Erdogan have begun to be implemented," he added, without giving further details.
Washington has urged Turkey to avoid a large-scale incursion, fearing it could destabilise the most peaceful part of that country and cause a bigger regional crisis.
Four Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes with the PKK in Turkey's Sirnak province near the Iraqi border on Tuesday, piling further pressure on Erdogan to take tough action.
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. ( Reuters )