Turkish air strikes highlight Iraq’s problems outside ISIS

Sunday 30/04/2017
Sky-high tensions. A Turkish F-16 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana.(Reuters)

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.