Iraqi Kurdistan President: PKK should leave region to protect civilians

Published August 2nd, 2015 - 05:00 GMT

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan called Saturday for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to withdraw from the region where the militant group has a number of bases after Turkish airstrikes killed at least eight civilians there.

The office of President Masoud Barzani condemned the predawn airstrikes by Turkey in the Qandil mountains but said the PKK should leave to protect civilians.

It is the latest twist in a series of developments over the past two weeks that threaten the US-led fight against the Islamic State militant group, a campaign which has depended heavily on Kurdish fighters on the ground in both Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish airstrikes, ongoing for a week, have been slammed by Kurds and the Iraqi government. Turkey said it is acting in self-defence against the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization, a position the United States backs. The PKK has also fought Islamic State.

The airstrikes Saturday killed at least eight people and injured seven civilians, the PKK-affiliated Firat news agency and witnesses said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that an investigation into the incident has been launched.

"Every effort" is made to avoid civilian casualties, the statement said, adding that "it is known" there were no civilians present during the strikes.

The call by Barzani, a conservative who has had a long-running feud with the leftist PKK, comes as other parties in the Kurdistan region have been more critical of Turkey. The Goran party, the second-largest, asked for the UN Security Council to intervene.

"Innocent civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan are the victims of Turkish-PKK conflict," Bayan Sami Rahman, the Iraqi Kurdistan representative to the United States, posted on her Twitter account, adding the government believes "there is no military solution."

Meanwhile, the Kurdish militia in Syria, the main ally of the United States on the ground there fighting Islamic State, issued its own warning, saying Turkey had targeted the Kurdish group four times in the past week.

"These provocative actions will have negative consequences if they continue, and Turkey's government will be held accountable for the results," the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said in a statement.

"We ask our partners in the US-led international coalition against ISIS to clarify their approach towards these actions of the Turkish military," the statement said, using a common abbreviation for the Islamist extremist group.

The YPG separately announced it had ousted Islamic State from the north-eastern Syrian city of al-Hassakeh. Syrian government forces appeared to have also been involved in fighting the militants.

Analysts speculated that the PKK would not immediately withdraw from northern Iraq, noting that Barzani's party in the past has implied a similar demand. The tensions are squeezing the Iraqi Kurdistan government, an ally of both Turkey and the United States.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said about 260 PKK fighters have been killed in the airstrikes, citing unnamed security sources. The information could not be verified, and the Turkish government has not formally released any data. The PKK said it has lost several fighters.

Turkey launched airstrikes against the PKK, a sister organization of the YPG, last week as a ceasefire with the Turkey-focused armed group collapsed after largely holding for more than two years.

Since then, attacks by the PKK in Turkey have risen. Most have targeted the police and military. On Saturday, Turkey's military announced the latest death, saying a soldier was killed by a landmine.

A peace process between the government and PKK had been showing signs of faltering for months, but a suicide bombing that killed 32 people at a pro-Kurdish gathering July 20 in southern Turkey acting as a catalyst for the unraveling of the ceasefire.

The conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK has claimed about 40,000 lives over three decades. The PKK began as a separatist group but has moderated its demands to achieving some autonomy and greater rights for the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

Turkey's prosecutors have also begun to go after the mainstream Kurdish party in the country, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), opening criminal investigations against its top two leaders while accusing them of promoting violence and supporting the YPG.

The US fight against Islamic State has also been complicated by recent abductions by Syrian rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front who hail from a unit that was trained by Washington.

Many Syrian rebels remain focused on ousting President Bashar al-Assad, their core enemy since the start of the conflict in 2011, even as the Islamic State group threatens their positions.

By Shabtai Gold


© 2021 dpa GmbH

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