RANIA, Iraq (Reuters) - Turkey’s military said on Tuesday it had killed up to 100 Kurdish rebels in six days of air and artillery strikes on northern Iraq, but Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas disputed the toll and launched more attacks inside Turkey.
Turkey’s strikes are the first in the mountains of northern Iraq in more than a year and are meant as retaliation for an escalation of guerilla attacks after the collapse of efforts to negotiate a settlement to the 27-year-old conflict.
A Turkish military statement said warplanes had struck 132 targets of the PKK, which uses the region as a base to launch attacks on Turkey in its fight for Kurdish self-rule.
“According to initial information 90-100 terrorists were rendered ineffective,” according to the General Staff, using an expression referring to the killing of militants. “The air and ground operations will continue,” the military added.
The military said definite figures on PKK casualties were not available, but it had information that more than 80 militants were also wounded in the operations, which hit 73 shelters, eight stores and nine anti-aircraft positions.
But seven Iraqi civilians were also killed on Sunday in a Turkish air strike, Iraqi Kurdish officials and witnesses said, the first civilians killed since the raids began last Wednesday.
PKK official Rozh Willat said the Turkish military figures were wrong.
“We considered this part of the psychological war waged by the Turkish army and (Prime Minister Tayyip) Erdogan’s government against the Kurdish people,” he said. “The real number is three martyrs only, and we do not have any wounded.”
The casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.
The attacks have angered residents of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, where Turkish investors have flocked in recent years to build homes, offices and shopping malls.
At least 2,000 people protested on Sunday in the town of Rania as the seven victims were buried, said Mayor Barham Ahmed Hama Rasheed, who called on the United Nations to intervene and stop the shelling.
The victims included a 3-month-old child and two others under 18 years, he said.
Both Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Arbil have condemned the shelling.
The Turkish government and military say the air strikes are to deny rebels a haven there from which to attack Turkey.
Despite repeated air strikes on northern Iraq and cross-border military raids since the 1990s, PKK rebels are still able to launch attacks well inside Turkish territory.
One Turkish soldier was killed and three others wounded in an early morning attack by a large group of PKK fighters armed with rockets and rifles in Degirmendere village, some 300 km (190 miles) from the Iraqi border, security sources said.
Separately, PKK rebels also abducted five people working for three mobile phone companies in the Tatvan district of Bitlis province, security sources said, offering no further details.
PKK rebels have killed some 40 Turkish security personnel in just over a month. More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in 1984.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Additional reporting by Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir, Turkey; Reporting and writing by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Jon Hemming