Iraq protests Turkish shelling, warns on ties

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Iraq accused Turkey of “intensively shelling” part of its northern Kurdish region this week and handed Ankara’s envoy a protest letter on Saturday which warned such actions could harm relations.Iraq’s spiral of internal violence raged on, with almost 30 people killed in a spate of bombings across the country, including 12 soldiers hit in a huge explosion by a suicide truck bomber at an Iraqi army checkpoint south of Baghdad.

Six civilian detainees were also killed and more than 50 wounded by either mortar bombs or rockets in a rare attack on a US-run prison camp in southern Iraq, the US military said.

An Iraqi foreign ministry statement said the Turkish shelling, over a three-hour period late on Wednesday and early Thursday, caused widespread damage and fires in the mountainous northern Kurdish provinces of Dahuk and Erbil.

“This attack caused wide fires and huge damage in the area and made citizens fearful,” the ministry statement said, without specifically identifying the damage.

“Such an action could affect the confidence between both countries and affect the friendly atmosphere between both governments,” said the statement, which called for talks.

Jabar Yawir, deputy minister for Peshmerga affairs in Kurdistan, said people were being evacuated from five villages because of the shelling. Officials were assessing the damage.

“Kshan village is being fully evacuated because of the bombing,” Yawir told Reuters.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Haj Hamoud called in Ankara’s envoy in Baghdad to hand him the protest letter.

Turkey’s foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Financial markets were shaken by a report late on Wednesday, denied by Ankara, that Turkey had launched a major incursion across the border into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels.

A military source in Turkey said troops had conducted a limited raid, an infrequent incursion into the mountains in northern Iraq where 4,000 rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are said to be hiding.

Iraq’s leaders have repeatedly called for dialogue with Turkey to resolve the growing tensions, while Washington has also urged Turkey not to take unilateral military action.

Analysts say there is little chance of a large-scale incursion.

Turkey’s military is known to occasionally shell PKK targets inside Iraq and to conduct small “hot pursuit” raids but the government in Ankara routinely refuses to comment on reports of military activity near or over the Iraqi border.

Turkey has become increasingly frustrated by PKK attacks on its soil and the failure of its US allies to tackle the rebels. It has sent more tanks and troops to the border region, sparking fears of a major strike.

Hamoud handed over the protest letter as thousands took to the streets in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast in a state-sponsored demonstration against separatist violence.

Iraqi soldiers dug through the rubble after a blast killed 12 troops and wounded 30 more at an army checkpoint on a road between Jurf Sakhar and Iskandiriya near the predominantly Shi’ite city of Hilla, 100 km south of Baghdad.

The death toll from the suicide attack was expected to rise.

Unrelenting violence between majority Shiites and Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam Hussein, has killed tens of thousands and raised fears of all-out sectarian civil war.

A US-led security crackdown, which began four months ago and involves more than 20,000 extra troops, is meant to avert just that outcome.

The crackdown has driven some insurgents out of Baghdad into surrounding towns and cities.

Also in southern Iraq, either rockets or mortar rounds slammed into the US-run Camp Bucca prison, killing six detainees and wounding 50. No other details were available.

In Baghdad, four people were killed and seven wounded by a roadside bomb which exploded next to a minibus in eastern Baladiyat district, police said.

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