Kurdish rebels accuse Iran of shelling villages inside Iraq

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, Aug 18, 2006 (AFP) – Kurdish rebels on Friday accused Iranian forces of shelling several villages inside northern Iraq, killing two civilians and forcing many to flee the region after two days of strikes.

"Iranian forces have since 9:00 am (0500 GMT) hit several villages near the mountainous Qandil region and killed two civilians," said Rustom Judi, a local leader from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

He said the Iranian artillery bombarded "eight villages, and today was the second day of strikes in the same region" on the Iranian border.

Judi said many villagers fled their homes after the strikes, adding that the attacks had stopped at around 4:00 pm Friday.

For more than a year, Iran, which has its own Kurdish minority, has been battling infiltrations by Pejak, a Kurdish group linked to the PKK.

The PKK, which has been blacklisted as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 when it took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey.

Ankara has long urged Washington and Baghdad to root out the PKK from northern Iraq, but it has been told that violence in other parts of the conflict-torn country is more of a priority.

The Kurdish conflict in Turkey has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984.

Iran is bound by treaty with Turkey to fight the outlawed PKK. In return, Turkey has pledged to fight the Iranian armed opposition group, the Iraq-based People’s Mujahedeen.

Kurds make up the majority in three adjacent areas within Iraq, Iran and Turkey.