Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Kurds flee homes as Iran shells Iraq's north border


Turkey and Iran have dispatched tanks, artillery and thousands of troops to their frontiers with Iraq during the past few weeks in what appears to be a coordinated effort to disrupt the activities of Kurdish rebel bases.

Scores of Kurds have fled their homes in the northern frontier region after four days of shelling by the Iranian army. Local officials said Turkey had also fired a number of shells into Iraqi territory.

Some displaced families have pitched tents in the valleys behind Qandil Mountain, which straddles Iraq's rugged borders with Turkey and Iran.

Officials said that at least six villages had been abandoned and one person had died following a sustained artillery barrage by Iranian forces that appeared designed to flush out guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who have hideouts in Iraq.

Although fighting between Turkish security forces and PKK militants is nowhere near the scale of the 1980s and 1990s -- which accounted for the loss of more than 30,000 mostly Turkish Kurdish lives -- at least 15 Turkish police officers have died in clashes.

The PKK's sister party in Iran, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Pejak), has stepped up activities against security targets in Kurdish regions.

Kurdish media reported on Thursday that eight Iranian troops were killed.

Rostam Judi, a PKK leader, said on Thursday that no operations against Turkey or Iran were being launched from Iraqi territory.

"We have fighters across southeastern Turkey. Our presence in Iraq is purely for political work," he said.

Frustrated by the reluctance of the US and the government in Baghdad to crack down on the PKK bases inside Iraq, Turkish generals have hinted they are considering a large-scale military operation across the border.

"We would not hesitate to take every kind of measures when our security is at stake," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said last week.

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