Fifteen Turkish soldiers are killed in a rebel attack on an army outpost near the Iraqi border.
PKK attacks Turkish position from Iraq
ISTANBUL // In a setback in its fight against Kurdish rebels that could signal the start of a new escalation, Turkeytoday lost 15 soldiers in a rebel attack on an army outpost near the Iraqi border, days before Ankara is expected to extend permission for the military to send troops and aircraft to northern Iraq. Supported by heavy weapons deployed on Iraqi territory, fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, attacked an outpost near the village of Aktutun close to the Iraqi border in Turkey's south-eastern Hakkari province, the Turkish general staff said on its website. It said 23 PKK fighters were killed in the fighting that started on Friday afternoon and lasted until the evening. Two soldiers were missing. The outpost in Aktutun has been attacked by the PKK several times in the past, the newspaper Hurriyet reported. Six soldiers died in an attack in May and 22 soldiers were killed there in 1992, the newspaper said. The losses of the latest attack recalled the death of at least 12 soldiers almost exactly one year ago in a PKK ambush in Daglica, around 30km north-west of Aktutun. That the PKK has apparently been able to procure artillery and position it close to the border is an ominous sign for Ankara. Turkey has said for a long time the rebels can easily buy explosives and weapons in Iraq, but it is the first time the PKK has used heavy weapons in a major attack. So far, the rebels have mostly used assault rifles and roadside bombs to attack Turkish soldiers. The Turkish army, the second biggest fighting force in Nato after the US military, has used artillery, warplanes and attack helicopters as well as other modern weaponry. "A big part of the losses occurred because of the firing of heavy weapons from northern Iraq," the military said. Troops were still searching for the two soldiers that went missing during the fighting. The military also hinted that Turkey may again send soldiers into Iraq in an effort to weaken the PKK. "The fight against the separatist organisation will continue with growing determination both inside and outside the country," the general staff said. "No one should have any doubts about that." Using a parliamentary permit, Turkey sent ground troops into Iraq in February in a week-long operation directed against the PKK, which is regarded as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and Iraq. Since then, there have been several limited attacks. Only last week, Turkish fighter jets attacked PKK installations in Iraq, according to authorities in northern Iraq. Parliament in Ankara is to extend the one-year permit, which runs out on Oct 17, in a vote scheduled for Wednesday, the first full day of parliamentary debate after the summer break. An overwhelming majority is expected in the 550 member chamber. But even before the attack in Aktutun it had been clear that Turkey's incursions into northern Iraq have not succeeded in destroying the rebels' infrastructure or in destroying their military capability. PKK fighters killed at least 18 Turkish soldiers and members of a pro-Ankara Kurdish militia in clashes on Turkish territory last month, according to the military's website. In addition, troops found several dozen kilograms of explosives, which the PKK has been using for roadside bombs. PKK members have been also blamed for a bomb attack in Istanbul in July that killed 17 people. Ever since it withdrew the bulk of its force of about 5,000 fighters from Turkey after the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, by Turkish agents in 1999, the PKK has been directing its attacks in Turkey from the Kandil Mountains in Iraq, about 100km south of the Turkish border. Ankara has accused both Iraq and the United States of not doing enough to stop the rebels. A year ago, Washington agreed to share intelligence about PKK camps and movements of rebel groups in northern Iraq with Turkey and to allow limited Turkish attacks on Iraqi soil. Future incursions would be aimed only against "the continuing terrorist attacks and threats against Turkey", the draft for the permit said, according to Turkish media reports. The legal groundwork for possible future incursions is part of a new effort by Ankara to defeat the PKK, more than 20 years after the rebels took up arms to fight for an independent Kurdish state in Turkey's south-east. Nearly 40,000 people have died in the conflict. Today, the PKK says it no longer seeks an independent state and says it will stop fighting if the government agrees to a general amnesty, more autonomy to Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds and to a withdrawal of Turkish troops from the south-east. Ankara rejects those demands. In addition to the planned extension of the permission for the army to strike against the PKK in northern Iraq, the Turkish government has announced plans for public investments to improve economic conditions in predominantly Kurdish south-eastern Anatolia. A new Kurdish-language television station is also planned. Turkish media reports have said the new channel's programme would be beamed from the same satellite as Roj-TV, a television station popular among Turkish Kurds that is seen as a mouthpiece for the PKK. On the foreign policy side, Turkey has started to mend its strained relations with the Iraqi government. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, went to Baghdad in July for talks with the Iraqi leadership, and Abdullah Gul, the president, has also said he wants to visit the Iraqi capital. Ali Babacan, the foreign minister, invited Hoshyar Zebari, his Iraqi counterpart, to attend a meeting of a Council for Strategic Relations between Turkey and Iraq in Istanbul taking place in the coming months. The Turkish carrier Turkish Airlines is reported to plan resume regular flights to Baghdad this month. email@example.com