Turkish air strikes highlight Iraq’s problems outside ISIS
London -Turkish air strikes targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq have put back on the map Iraqi problems not linked to the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkish warplanes bombed on two occasions militant bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Ankara reiterated that it did not distinguish between ISIS and the PKK or its affiliates as both groups were responsible for terror attacks inside Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara had “a legitimate right with these interventions” because of threats to Turkey from these areas and urged its allies to support the efforts. “There are terrorists that enter Turkey via different paths,” he said.
Turkey’s air strikes on April 26 in Iraq’s Zab region hit “two hiding places and one shelter and killed six separatist terrorist organisation militants who were understood to be preparing an attack,” a statement from the Turkish military said.
One day earlier, Turkish planes bombed PKK targets in Iraq’s Sinjar region. Among those killed in that attack were five members of the Iraqi peshmerga, which enjoys good relations with Ankara.
Turkey also struck targets of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara links to the PKK, in Syria, claiming that 70 militants were killed in both countries following the April 25 raids.
Although Turkey regularly carries out air strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq, this was the first time it has struck the Sinjar region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters that he would not allow Sinjar to become a PKK base, vowing that military operations will continue “until the last terrorist is eliminated.”
“We are obliged to take measures. We must take steps. We shared this with the United States and Russia and we are sharing it with Iraq as well. It is an operation that (Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud) Barzani has been informed about,” Erdogan said, adding that it was “absolutely not an operation against the peshmerga.”
The peshmerga forces’ command called on the PKK to withdraw from the Sinjar region, saying the “PKK must stop destabilising and escalating tensions in the area.”
Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) condemned the “imposed presence” of PKK militants in Sinjar, which it said resulted in the incident.
“Once again, we remind our people and all the other parties of the fact that this incident or any of such kind is due to the inappropriately imposed presence of the PKK in the Kurdistan Region, which has not brought any benefits, only chaos,” a statement from the KDP read.
The KDP statement also criticised Turkey. “As we’re angry with the bombing of bases and positions of our peshmerga and are strongly expressing our concerns, we emphasise even if these attacks were carried out mistakenly, it is still unacceptable,” it said.
The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” the strikes were conducted “without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition” against ISIS.
Coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said Turkey gave the international alliance “less than an hour of notification time before the strikes were conducted. That’s not enough time.”
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry denounced the strikes as a “violation against Iraq’s sovereignty” and called on the international community to put an end to such “interferences” by Turkey.
“Any operation that is carried out by Turkish government without any coordination with the Iraqi government is totally rejected,” Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Ahmad Jamal told the Associated Press.
Iraq’s central government is embroiled in a row with the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish authorities over the sovereignty of Kirkuk city. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on April 27 called the raising of Kurdish flags over government buildings in Kirkuk an act of “sedition.”
In Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces have been waging a campaign since October to retake the city from ISIS, more military advances were reported.
“This morning, the heroes of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) on the western axis succeeded in fully clearing Tenek neighbourhood,” Staff Lieutenant-General Abdulwahab al-Saadi told Agence France-Presse.
Tenek “is one of the largest neighbourhoods on the western side of Mosul,” said Saadi, one of the top CTS commanders in Iraq. “It used to be one of the main strongholds for terrorist groups,” he said.
Iraqi forces are using siege and stealth tactics to drive ISIS out of Mosul’s Old City, Lieutenant- General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, a commander of Iraqi CTS units in Mosul, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Iraqi paramilitary units retook the UNESCO-listed ancient city of Hatra, which lies 120km south-west of Mosul, an Iraqi military spokesman said.