- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2007

SIRNAK, Turkey — Kurdish rebels ambushed a Turkish military convoy yesterday less than three miles from the Iraqi border, killing 12 soldiers in the face of growing threats by Turkey to cross the rugged frontier and root out the guerrillas.

Turkey shelled the border region in response to the attack, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani — a Kurd — ordered the rebels to lay down their arms or leave Iraq. President Bush also condemned the attack, saying through a spokesman that “these attacks are unacceptable and must stop now.”

Turkey dismissed Mr. Talabani’s call, saying the time had come for action. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said after talks with his Turkish counterpart that Ankara was not likely to stage an immediate attack.

Mr. Gates told reporters he had advised Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul that a major cross-border incursion would not serve Turkish or American interests.

“I’m heartened that he seems to be implying a reluctance on their part to act unilaterally, and I think that’s a good thing,” Mr. Gates said. “I didn’t have the impression that anything was imminent.”

Turkey’s parliament last week authorized the government to deploy troops across the border, and the military confirmed that soldiers were pounding 63 suspected rebel positions with artillery. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek would not say whether any of those positions were in Iraq.

“Whatever is necessary in this struggle is being done and will be done,” Mr. Cicek said.

The troops, backed by helicopter gunships, killed 32 rebels yesterday, he said.

The rebel Kurdistan Workers Party — or PKK, as it is known by its local acronym — said later that its guerrillas had captured a “number” of Turkish soldiers. Eight soldiers were missing, according to private NTV television.

Mr. Cicek refused comment on the report, saying “the clashes are still under way.”

“Every kind of attack will be avenged many times over,” he added.

An estimated 200 guerrillas — the largest group to attack a Turkish unit in years — reportedly took part in yesterday’s assault on an infantry company near the village of Daglica, less than three miles from the Iraqi border.

The attack occurred just after midnight during a military offensive against rebels in Hakkari province, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet.

According to CNN-Turk, the rebels blew up a bridge as a 12-vehicle military convoy was crossing. In a separate attack yesterday, 17 persons were injured when a bomb exploded as a wedding convoy passed, the local governor’s office said.

Iraq reported Turkish shelling toward Kurdish villages in the border area in northern Iraq, but no casualties were reported in the artillery bombardment.

“Our anger, our hatred is great,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Yesterday’s attack raised the death toll of soldiers in PKK attacks in the past two weeks to about 30.

“A cross-border offensive must certainly be carried out, and their blood should not be left on the ground,” said Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party.

Previous offensives by Turkey in Iraq have blunted rebel strength but failed to eradicate the group.

The remarks by Iraq’s president were the strongest indication to date of his frustration with the rebels and his wish to distance himself, as well as Iraq’s Kurds, from them.

“If they insist on the continuation of fighting, they should leave Kurdistan, Iraq, and not create problems here. And they should return to their countries and do there whatever they want,” Mr. Talabani said.

But Turkey said it was time for action against the PKK.

“Statements do not satisfy us. There has been nothing left to say. We are expecting concrete steps from them,” Mr. Cicek said.



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