Report: Turkey bombs Kurdish bases in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Turkish warplanes reportedly bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq on Thursday, before a spring festival traditionally used by Kurdish activists to stir anti-government sentiment and assert demands for political autonomy and cultural rights.

The planes flew reconnaissance flights over the border area before bombing targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, private news channel NTV reported, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials.

It said there were no reports of civilian casualties.

Last month, Turkey launched a major ground operation into northern Iraq to hit Kurdish guerrilla camps there. The eight-day incursion ended on Feb. 29.

There was no immediate confirmation of the new attack from the Turkish military. But military chief Gen. Yasar Buyukanit has said Turkey will continue its attacks against rebels in northern Iraq.

Later Thursday, several fighter jets took off from an air base in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast. The roar of jets drowned out loudspeaker announcements inviting Kurds to celebrate the Nowruz festival on Friday.

Police reinforcements dispatched
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, believed by many Turks to be a political front for the PKK, is organizing the festival and said it intended to keep the celebrations peaceful. But police were bringing in reinforcements as part of strict security measures, especially because the festival will be held close to the city center.

"As we experience the joy of this festival, we should abandon the language of violence and hatred and exult in the universal language of love, peace and brotherhood," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Emine Ayna, deputy chairman of the pro-Kurdish party, urged Turkey to establish dialogue with the rebels and expand cultural rights to end the conflict. The party planned to use slogans such as "Enough is enough" during the festival, but police confiscated its banners, claiming the slogans are used by rebels.

The PKK has said it wants political and cultural autonomy for Kurds in southeastern Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since it began in 1984. Kurds, a non-Arab people distantly related to the Iranians, constitute around 20 percent of Turkey's population of at least 70 million.

The Turkish military has said it inflicted heavy losses on a large group of rebels in Iraq's Zap region, close to the Turkish border, during last month's ground incursion. The rebels have disputed that claim.

The Turkish parliament met in a closed-door session Thursday to discuss the ground incursion. The debate was called by Turkey's opposition leaders, who say the mission should have been more sweeping and that the military withdrew prematurely from Iraq under U.S. pressure.

The military has denied that the timing was linked to U.S. calls for withdrawal.