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Iraqis to Attempt Diplomacy with Turks

A high-ranking Iraqi delegation is due in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Thursday, as efforts to defuse tensions along the Turkey-Iraq border continue.

On Wednesday, Turkish warplanes and helicopters struck Kurdish rebel positions along the border and fired artillery 12 miles into Iraqi territory.

Turkish officials are threatening to invade northern Iraq and attack rebel PKK bases in the mountains.

The town of Yuksekova, Turkey, lies in a valley between two ridges less then 20 miles from the borders of Iraq and Iran. It is a heavily militarized region, where every couple of miles, soldiers man checkpoints where they stop and search passing cars.

Kurdish Rebels Stage Raid

Five days ago, Kurdish rebels known as the PKK mounted one of their deadliest raids in years just a few miles from away. They ambushed a convoy of Turkish military vehicles by blowing up a bridge.

The rebels then killed at least 12 Turkish soldiers and have published photos of eight they claim to have captured.

The mountainous terrain is dangerous. Soldiers said rebel land mines recently hit two civilian vehicles on nearby road, wounding more than 12 people.

Officers recently had to send out a search party to find a unit that went missing while on patrol. Meanwhile, the checkpoint's radio room was flooded by telephone calls from concerned relatives desperate to learn about soldiers deployed in the area.

At sunset, a civilian truck loaded with troops rolled into the small Turkish army base.

It was followed by army officers dressed in civilian clothes driving a non-military car. This disguise is aimed at protecting the troops from rebel attacks.

The nearby town of Yuksekova is mostly Kurdish and it seems to have no shortage of PKK sympathizers.

The walls of the local office of a Kurdish nationalist political party are decorated with the photos of six PKK fighters from Yuksekova who have been killed fighting Turkish security forces within the last year.

A local man pointed at the photo of one young woman, who, he says, died near the border.

"She was in the organization for five years," he said. "Her code name was Perihan Aybar, and she died just during the Ramadan month, about 20 days ago."

Turkish Citizens Have PKK Ties

Mayor Mehmet Salih Yildiz said every Kurdish family in Yuksekova has relatives in the PKK who died fighting the Turkish state.

"Two of my sons died fighting in the mountains," he said. "My 32-year-old daughter is still up there fighting. If Turkey offered a general amnesty to the PKK, then maybe I could embrace my daughter again and the soldiers' families could embrace their sons."

The threat of an escalation in Turkey's long conflict with the PKK has many Kurds in the southeast nervous.

In the small farming village of Kurubash, a Kurdish shopkeeper named Burhan Kantar said he has not heard from his 21-year-old son, Cuneyt, in months.

Cuneyt is one of tens of thousands of conscripted soldiers in the Turkish army who have been deployed in recent months to the turbulent Turkish-Iraqi border.

Kantar said he does not want the Turkish military to launch an incursion into northern Iraq, which is ruled by Iraqi Kurds.

"Those people in northern Iraq are our brothers," Kantar said. "Killing is not the solution."

A Kurdish woman shares Kantar's concern.

"Every one of us has a son or a brother in the military," she said. "We're all afraid of what will happen to them if there's a war."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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