BAGHDAD – Iraqi leaders complained Monday that Turkey had not coordinated with Baghdad before sending dozens of warplanes to bomb Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq — the largest aerial attack in years against the outlawed separatist group.
In Turkey, a U.S. Embassy official in Ankara said Washington was informed about the operation.
"It was a Turkish operation, it was a Turkish decision. We were informed," the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as the official was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Iraqi parliament condemned the bombing, calling it an "outrageous" violation of Iraq's sovereignty that killed innocent civilians.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the Iraqi government thought Turkey would coordinate with it before striking the rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, inside Iraq on Sunday. He also indicated that the fact Iraqi civilians were killed showed Turkey had not hit the right target.
"What happened yesterday was based maybe on misinformation," Zebari said.
An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman. The rebels said two civilians and five rebels were killed. Turkey insisted the strikes were aimed at rebel targets and not at the civilian population.
As many as 50 fighter jets were involved in the airstrikes, Turkish media reported. Turkey has recently attacked the area with ground-based artillery and helicopters and there have been some unconfirmed reports of airstrikes by warplanes.
The attack came a month after the U.S. promised to share intelligence with Turkey to help combat the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK and Turkey's military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said U.S. intelligence was used Sunday.
"America gave intelligence," Kanal D television quoted Buyukanit as saying. "But more importantly, America last night opened (the Iraqi) airspace to us. By opening the airspace, America gave its approval to this operation."
In Washington, a Pentagon official said that the U.S. military has been sharing intelligence with the Turks, but that he did not know exactly what information was given to aid with the airstrikes or when it might have been given.
Another defense official said the U.S. had made sure Turkey would have clear use of the skies to enable the strikes.
They both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said only that; "The U.S. continues to assist with information to the Turkish government that will help them deal with the insurgent situation that they have up there."
Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the regional Kurdistan government, said the air raids were "a violation of Iraq's sovereignty."
He said the bombers did not distinguish between militant and civilian targets, even though Turkey's government has said "they are not an enemy of the Kurdish government or its people."
Masoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region, in a statement condemned 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."
Turkey's military on Monday was assessing the damage caused to the PKK. Private NTV television said at least one rebel command center in Qandil was destroyed in the strikes. The mountain is a base for the PKK's leadership council and a network of camps, although some reports have suggested the rebels may have abandoned their bases in anticipation of attacks.
Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Iraq. In October, parliament voted in favor of authorizing the government to order a cross-border operation against the group.
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.
The United States and Iraq have, however, called on Turkey to avoid a major operation, fearing such an offensive could disrupt one of the most tranquil regions in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Al Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri warned of "traitors" among insurgents in Iraq and called on Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes to purge those who help the Americans in a new videotape posted Monday on the Web.
Al-Zawahri's comments were aimed at undermining so-called "awakening councils" — the groups of Iraqi Sunni tribesmen that the U.S. military has backed to help fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies.
Some Sunni insurgent groups have fought alongside American forces, and the U.S. military has touted the councils as a major factor in reducing violence in war-torn regions like Iraq's Anbar province.
The mujahedeen "must throw out the bribe-taking collaborators from among their ranks, those who sold out their faith and fight under the banner of the cross. They must expose them to the Muslim world," al-Zawahri said in the video. "Those who support the Americans are despicable scum."
In scattered violence around Iraq on Monday, a homicide bomber using a bicycle packed with explosives killed seven people in the main market of Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, local police said. Another 23 people were wounded in the attack.
Four members of an anti-Al Qaeda group were killed during a firefight with gunmen in the Mafraq neighborhood of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. At least five people were wounded.
In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded, killing two people riding on a passing minibus and wounding seven others, police and hospital officials said.
The U.S. military said a soldier died from a non-combat related injury on Monday. The name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of family members.