Source AP ©

Kurds of Iraq cope with Turkish shelling

In the shadow of the Turkish border, Kurdish guerrillas roam among the oak trees, brandishing automatic weapons and grenades. An anti-aircraft gun stands on a nearby hill, hidden in the forest.

Turkey has massed thousands of troops along the border and has shelled Iraqi territory as part of its campaign against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which stages cross-border attacks from sanctuaries here.

The Turks have also threatened to send their troops across the border if the U.S. and Iraq cannot rein in the PKK rebels, who have been fighting for autonomy for Turkish Kurds for more than two decades.

Those threats and periodic shelling from the Turkish side have raised fears among Iraqi Kurds who live in the remote farming villages about 450 kilometers (270 miles) north of Baghdad.

Those who can have left the area for safety further south, returning from time to time to check on their property. Others fear for the future - even if a threatened Turkish invasion never comes to pass.

Ramadan Mohammed, 58, worries that he won't be able to harvest his crops of apples, peaches and apricots if the shelling persists.

Mohammed and his 12 family members left his village of Mezdori for the safety of Dahuk, 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the south.

Every day, he drives from Dahuk to Mezdori to check on his home and orchards, which have already suffered damage.

"I was saddened by the destruction of my family's orchard," he said.

In another border village, Kisset, Abdul-Rahman Taha shows a visitor what he says are the effects of recent shelling - several fruit trees shattered by Turkish shells.

"Are the trees guilty," he asks. "In other countries, the government spends a lot of money while the Turkish army is working hard to destroy nature."

If the villagers harbor ill-feelings against the PKK rebels, they keep it to themselves. Many Iraqi Kurds feel a kinship to fellow Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria, who have not achieved the same degree of self-rule as those in Iraq.

Mohammed said he considers Turkey "our enemy" but added that he's confident the Turks will not invade Iraq because it "would create troubles inside Turkey."

Such a move would also put Turkey on a collision course with the United States, its closest ally, and the European Union, which the Turkish government would like to join.

Although the U.S. has about 150,000 troops in Iraq, those troops have their hands full against Sunni and Shiite extremists far to the south.

The Iraqis - not the Americans - are responsible for security in the Kurdish north.

A PKK commander in the area told The Associated Press that Turkish saber-rattling is aimed at distracting attention from "repression practiced on Kurds inside Turkey."

The commander gave his name as Azad Kurdistani - or "Kurdish freedom." The United States and the EU consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

"We do not believe there will be an immiment, large-scale Turkish attack against Kurdistan," he said, referring to the three-province, Kurdish self-ruled area of northern Iraq.

"Even if such an attack happens, we have the resources and the means to stop it," he added.

In the meantime, there is little the Kurdish villagers here in the north can do except hope for an easing of the standoff.

"I'm supposed to be used to the sound of artillery," said Pawar Fawazi, 11. "But I still fear it."

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