Iraq asks rebels to quit area to save citizens

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. Picture: Getty
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. Picture: Getty
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IRAQ’S Kurdish regional government called on the Kurdish Workers’ Party to “withdraw” from Iraq’s Kurdish territory yesterday to prevent civilian deaths amid a campaign of airstrikes by Turkey.

A statement from the office of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said the Kurdish Workers’ Party, the PKK, “should withdraw its fighters from the Kurdish region so to ensure the civilians of Kurdistan don’t become victims of that fighting and conflict”.

The statement also condemned Turkey for bombing civilians, following reports civilian homes were damaged in airstrikes in north-western Iraq. The statement calls on both sides to resume peace talks. “We condemn the bombing, which led to the martyrdom of the citizens of the Kurdish region, and we call on Turkey to not to repeat the bombing of civilians,” the statement added.

Sedar Sitar, an Iraq-based PKK activist, said Turkish strikes destroyed at least six homes in the town of Zargel yesterday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 12.

Turkey launched airstrikes on Kurdish rebel camps in northern Iraq last week, its first such strikes since a peace process with the Kurds was launched in 2012.

The airstrikes began as the US and Turkey announced the outlines of a deal to help push the Islamic State group (IS) back from a strip of territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border, replacing it with more-moderate rebels backed by Washington and Ankara.

On Friday, the Kurdish regional government accused the PKK of attacking an oil pipeline in northern Iraq. The Kurdish government had been selling oil directly to Turkey in a move that sparked tensions between the regional government in Irbil and the federal government in Baghdad. Those sales were stopped in a deal with Baghdad this year, but the Kurdish government has threatened to resume sales.

Tensions between Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and the PKK of Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey date back decades. The groups were opponents in a 1990s civil war which ended in an accord that let PKK fighters remain in Iraqi Kurdish territory. The US State Department regards the PKK as a terrorist organisation due to its history of violence in Turkey.

In recent months, the PKK allied with Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, and the main Syrian Kurdish militia against IS in northern Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said yesterday that as many as 28 F-16 jets raided 65 PKK targets in northern Iraq, including shelters and ammunition depots on Friday. A day earlier, as many as 80 jets hit more than 100 targets, the agency said.

Anadolu claimed some 260 PKK rebels have been killed and 400 wounded since the start of the raids. A statement on Wednesday by the Iraqi Council of Ministers called the Turkish airstrikes “a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”. The statement also stressed the council’s “commitment not to allow any attack on Turkey from Iraqi territory”.

In Syria, meanwhile, the Kurdish militia said the Turkish military has targeted them four times since 24 July, calling such attacks “provocative”.

The People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which have been spearheading battles against IS, called on the US-led coalition to clarify their stance regarding the Turkish strikes. The coalition has been giving Kurds air cover in the IS fight.

The YPG said that despite the fact it has nothing to do with Turkey’s fighting against the PKK, “the Turkish military monitors and targets our units”. It said the Turkish acts “will have negative consequences if they continue, and Turkey’s government will be held ­accountable”.