Civilians fearful as Turks move into Iraq

.AMADIYA, Iraq (AP) – Turkey says it is not targeting civilians as it chases after separatist rebels in northern Iraq, but people in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region say they have lived in fear since the incursion began.

Some residents of this area 18 miles from the Iraq-Turkey border thought they’d escaped to a safe haven, having abandoned homes closer to the border to avoid skirmishes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Turkish troops.

But with the Turks mounting their first confirmed ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, some say they are fearful of getting caught in the deadly crossfire.

Already, the Turkish military says it has killed 153 rebels since fighting began last Thursday. Turks fired barrage after barrage of artillery shells at rebels Monday, and its military said it had hit some 30 targets in the last 24 hours. The Turks have put their own death toll at 17; a funeral service for three troops was held Monday.

“Whenever the children hear the military operations, they feel frightened,” said school headmaster Aoni Mashaghti. “Most of the women came to school to take their kids out. Whenever they hear any sound of bombardment, the school becomes empty.”

Hawzan Hussein, who lives in a community of about 160 families, said people are worried because some of the Turkish targets are so close to their homes.

The explosions “have become a daily scene that frightened me with the possibility of hitting our house any time,” the 25-year-old said.

Associated Press Television News footage from the border area showed Turkish tanks dug into barren hillsides, with armored vehicles taking positions in towns.