IRBIL, Iraq – Thousands of Kurds and supporters took to the streets in northern Iraq Thursday to protest the Turkish parliament's decision to authorize the government to send troops across the border to root out Kurdish rebels who have been conducting raids into Turkey.
Elsewhere, U.S. forces detained 15 suspected militants in raids, while an insurgent threw a hand grenade into a school in the south, wounding six boys.
The vote in Turkey on Wednesday removed the last legal obstacle to an offensive, but there was no sign of imminent action as the United States and the Iraqi government urged restraint.
More than 5,000 men and women — political figures and average citizens alike — packed the streets as they marched to the U.N. offices in Dahuk, a Kurdish city near the border with Turkey, some 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The crowd waved the sunshine flag of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and shouted slogans and songs praising Kurdish nationality, handing representatives at the offices a document calling on the U.N. to intervene to stop any Turkish activity inside Iraq.
Kurdish leaders have warned that any Turkish incursion into northern Iraq would threaten the relative stability of the region and called on Ankara to seek peaceful means against violence from separatist rebels.
"No to military action, Yes to dialogue," the demonstrators shouted.
Evan Dosky, a 26-year-old university student, said the Turks should stick to fighting the Kurdish separatist rebels on their territory.
"We in our country have done nothing against neighboring Turkey and we will not allow that our dignity be violated," Dosky said.
Hasso Slevkani, a 65-year-old man wearing traditional Kurdish clothes and walking with a stick, called on Kurdish political parties to unite in the face of the threat.
He also expressed concern that the Turks are not only targeting members of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, but also trying to disrupt the relative peace and economic success of the autonomous Kurdish region to prevent separatist sentiment from gaining momentum among the Kurdish minority in Turkey.
"They are not chasing the PKK," Slevkani said. "They want to degrade Kurdistan's government dignity."
Thousands of schoolchildren in uniform and other protesters also took to the streets in the Kurdish city of Irbil, 215 miles north of Baghdad, waving banners in Kurdish and English, saying "Understanding each other is better than killing each other."
Minority Turkomen in the northern city of Tal Afar also staged a demonstration in solidarity with the Kurds, with about 1,500 protesters marching to the city council headquarters waving Iraqi flags and banners condemning the Turkish parliament's decision, Tal Afar mayor Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah said.
Turkish leaders have said they would prefer a solution to the guerrilla problem that does not entail a cross-border offensive; past operations in Iraq have failed to yield an outright victory over the rebels. But Erdogan has also warned that Turkey would take whatever steps necessary to defeat the separatist rebels.
Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast since 1984 in a conflict that has killed more than 30,000 people, and public anger is high over recent guerrilla attacks, as well as a perception that the United States has failed to back Turkey in its fight against the PKK.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, urged Turkey not to resort to the military offensive.
"We call upon our neighbor — Turkey — that they should be very careful not to push this situation beyond the brink," Saleh told Britain's More4 news on Wednesday. "This will be disastrous for Iraq. This will be disastrous for the region as a whole and no one will escape the consequences."
"I'm not in the business of threatening. I'm not in the business of issuing dire warnings. I am saying what we have — we have a problem — we need to sort it out based on the rule of law, international law and active cooperation and coordination between two neighbors. Taking the law into ones hand and unilateral action will spell trouble for all."
Meanwhile, an insurgent threw a hand grenade into a school compound in central Basra on Thursday, wounding six boys, one seriously, according to police.
The morning attack took place on the grounds of a private middle- and high-school complex in the Kut al-Hajaj area of Basra, according to a police officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Basra is Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
The violence there comes weeks after Britain pulled its troops out of Basra, allowing Iraqi security forces to take over. The Iraqis are expected to take full control of security in the southern province of Basra within two months, ending Britain's combat role in the country.
Elsewhere, U.S. troops also detained 15 suspected militants in raids targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq in Baghdad and to the north. Those captured included one accused of responsibility in car bomb and roadside bomb attacks in Tarmiyah and another who allegedly had ties to Syrian-based extremists and was involved in providing fake documents and funding for foreign fighters coming into Iraq.