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Turkish Military Kills 41 Kurdish Rebels

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CUKURCA, Turkey — Turkey's military said Monday it had killed 41 more separatist Kurdish rebels in clashes in northern Iraq, raising the reported guerrilla death toll in a cross-border operation to 153.

A statement posted on the military's Web site also said two more soldiers were killed in fighting, but gave no details. The deaths would drive the total Turkish military fatalities since the start of the incursion Thursday to 17. It said the military had hit some 30 targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in the last 24 hours.

Rebels disputed the claim of the number of fighters killed and warned that Turkey had entered a conflict that it could not win.

Turkey said its troops fired dozens of salvos of artillery shells at suspected rebel hideouts Monday and clashed with the rebels in four parts of northern Iraq. It did not specify the locations. It said troops were destroying rebel shelters, logistic centers and ammunition. Retreating rebels were setting booby traps under the corpses of dead comrades or planting mines on escape routes, the military said.

The sound of artillery fire could be heard in the border town of Cukurca. Several military bases that support Turkey's ground incursion into northern Iraq are on its outskirts, and artillery units have been positioned on hilltops overlooking Iraq.

Turkey began the operation to curb the rebels' ability to attack Turkish targets from hideouts on the Iraqi side of the border. It is the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

PKK rebels are fighting for autonomy in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and have carried out attacks in Turkey from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The conflict started in 1984 and has killed up to 40,000 people.

The rebels said Turkey could not win.

"They have stepped into a quagmire, they are trying to set themselves free," Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency, quoted PKK commander Bahoz Erdal as saying.

Havaw Ruaj, a PKK spokesman, said four PKK fighters were killed and eight others wounded in the cross-border fighting. Firat carried a rebel claim that 81 Turkish soldiers had died.

Turkey has assured Iraq that the operation would be limited to attacks on rebels. The U.S. and European Union consider the PKK a terrorist group.

Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington that the Turks appear to be living up to their assurances the incursion would be "limited in depth and in duration."

"So far everything we've seen is consistent with that," Ham said.

On Monday, the Turkish military released video footage of what it said was the ground incursion in Iraq. Images showed a helicopter taking off, trucks with soldiers driving up a hill and troops in white camouflage apparel carrying equipment on their backs.

On Sunday, the military confirmed that a Turkish helicopter crashed in Iraq and eight military personnel were killed during a cross-border ground operation against the PKK rebels. The guerrillas said they shot down a Turkish military helicopter near the border.

Turkey's military said investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash. It was not clear whether any of the reported casualties were on board. The military did not specify whether the eight fatalities were troops or pro-government village guards.