BAGHDAD — The president of the Kurdistan regional government ordered Iraqi Kurdistan to prepare for "full-scale resistance" Saturday if a Turkish military incursion expands into populated areas.
Turkish units continued to battle the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, claiming to have killed up to 79 PKK fighters during the ground incursion while suffering seven fatalities in the two-day battle, according to Turkish news reports.
Shelling continued Saturday morning about 3 miles inside the Iraqi borders for up to three hours. According to regional military officials, Turkish units had moved at least 10 miles inside the Iraqi border in the triangle formed by the Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish borders.
In the north, the regional leader, Massoud Barzani, said Kurdish forces were prepared to fight if one Iraqi Kurdish civilian were hurt.
Turkey for months had been threatening military action against the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States. The PKK wants an independent Kurdish state in the southeast of Turkey and has used violence against civilians to reach its goals.
Turkey, which complains that the PKK has a safe haven inside Iraqi Kurdistan, since June has sporadically shelled in the northern Qandil Mountains where the PKK is housed. But this is the largest incursion since the Turks threatened military might. Estimates of the number of soldiers who crossed the border vary between hundreds and 10,000.
"We doubt the true intentions behind the Turkish attacks; and we believe that their target is the Region of Kurdistan - and not the PKK," said Barzani. "Otherwise what is the reason behind destroying vital bridges used by the citizens in their daily lives, well inside the populated areas, what has this to do with the PKK?"
The head of the Kurdistan Region's Foreign Relations Department said that Kurdish regional forces did not want to be a party to the fight between the PKK and Turkey, but were prepared if the Turkish military came into populated areas.
"The peshmerga forces are on alert to defend the Kurdish community," Falah Bakir said of the regional government's military. "We do not want to see any involvement with the Turkish forces because this is not our fight."
In a statement he also said that "America is responsible for these attacks" because they gave Turkey the "green light" to "breach the sovereignty" of Iraq.
In the rugged, snowcapped Qandil mountains, the PKK claimed to have killed at least 15 Turkish soldiers and had their bodies and identification cards, said Ahmed Dennis, a spokesman for the militant organization. The group also claimed to have shot down a Turkish helicopter near the border in northeast Dohuk province.
The PKK warned that it would take the fight inside Turkey if the attacks did not stop, but swore to avoid civilian targets.
"The Turkish forces are still pushing forward in the border areas in Kurdistan and the elements of the PKK are standing up to them," Dennis said. "If the Turkish military operations continues, the PKK will take the fight into Turkey and will resort to guerilla warfare. We want to resolve the issue peacefully, but Turkey insist on war."
A senior Iraqi government official said the Turkish invasion had ulterior motives to destabilize a nearly autonomous region that borders Turkey. In Turkey, nearly 40 million Kurds live with few civil rights.
"The Kurdistan Regional Government feels they have ulterior motives to move in to the north," he said. "We feel if this would continue it could expand and destabilize the region with one mistake by Turkish artillery."
The government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh condemned the incursion again on Saturday.
Also Saturday in al Shiha, just north of Fallujah three suicide bombers targeted and killed a tribal sheikh, Ibraheem Teeri. The men were dressed as women and two were brothers. The first two detonated within five minutes of each other before police shot the third man.
In the south Basra's governor, Mohammed al Waili, accused the Iranian consulate of plotting an assassination attempt against him and his brother. He demanded the Iranian consulate in Basra be closed. (McClatchy special correspondent Taha reported from Sulaimaniyah)