Source AP ©

Iraq's Kurds bordering Turkey fear shelling

Iraq’s farmers said that they saw craters left after shelling near restive boundary with Turkey.

Although Ankara has not confirmed any shelling of Iraqi territory, the Turkish military has said it was carrying out an operation to track down Kurdish rebels after a deadly attack that killed 13 Turkish soldiers Sunday in a clash in the country's southeast Turkish province of Sirnak.

As part of the operation, Turkish troops have been bombing areas near the border with Iraq to try to prevent rebels from fleeing to their bases in northern Iraq, the Turkish military said.

Iraqi residents, who claimed Turkish artillery shells landed well into Iraq, and local officials in the Iraqi Kurdish-run northern region, feared the shelling was a sign of more to come.

In the city of Irbil, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad, the Kurdish governor warned Turkey on Tuesday its troops would sustain heavy losses if they invaded the Kurdish-run northern Iraq.

"If the Turkish troops decided to enter into the Iraq's Kurdistan territories, their decision would be wrong and they would sustain heavy casualties and material losses," the governor, Nozad Hadi, the governor, told AP Television News.

AP Television news footage from the scene showed the aftermath of the shelling, close to the al-Khalili border crossing. A Turkish flag fluttered in the wind on the Turkish side of the border while a huge "Welcome to Kurdistan" billboard stood on the Iraqi side.

Turkey has been pressing Iraq and the United States to hit the bases of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, and has considered a unilateral military operation across the border to root out the rebels.

Turkey had been shelling the area earlier this year and built up its troops on the border but there had been hopes the situation was calming after Turkey in September signed a counterterrorism pact with Iraq. The agreement does not allow Turkey to send its troops to Iraq's north, a key Turkish demand rejected under pressure from the leaders of Iraq's Kurdish region.

The U.S. is opposed to a military move by Turkey. The U.S., along with teh European Union, has branded the PKK a terrorist organization. Its members have fought Turkish government forces since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey's ethnic Kurds. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

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