Turkish Gunships Attack Kurdish Villages Inside Iraq

Turkish helicopter gunships attacked abandoned villages inside Iraq on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said, the first such airstrike since border tensions have escalated in recent months.

It also was the first major Turkish action against Kurdish rebels since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

Col. Hussein Tamir, an Iraqi Army officer who supervises border guards, said the airstrikes occurred before dawn on abandoned villages near Zakhu, an Iraqi Kurdish town near the border with Turkey. There were no casualties, he said.

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, corroborated Tamir's account. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The United States and Iraq have pressured Turkey to avoid a large-scale attack on PKK bases in northern Iraq, fearing such an operation would destabilize what has been the calmest region in the country.

U.S. authorities have agreed, however, to share intelligence about positions of Kurdish rebels with Turkey, possibly enabling the Turkish military to carry out limited assaults.

"The United States has declared the PKK as the common enemy. The struggle against this enemy will be maintained until it is eliminated," Erdogan told lawmakers in Parliament Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of Turkish troops have massed in the country's southeast ahead of a possible operation in Iraq. A series of hit-and-run attacks by PKK rebels has left nearly 50 dead, primarily Turkish soldiers, since late September.

Kurds are a major ethnic group straddling four Middle Eastern countries — Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria — totaling about 20 million people. Most live in Turkey, primarily in the southeast, where the PKK has been fighting for autonomy since 1984 in a conflict that has killed nearly 40,000 people.