Iraq warns Turkey after attack on airport in Sulaymaniyah

Air strike targeted a convoy carrying American military personnel near the airport in Iraq's Kurdistan region, US and Kurdish officials said

The Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. Reuters
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Iraq has demanded an apology from Turkey after an apparent drone strike on the airport in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah on Friday that US military officials said was aimed at a convoy carrying American personnel but did not cause casualties.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which caused an explosion near the airport and a fire that was put out by civil defence, according to airport officials quoted by the Iraq News Agency.

Lawk Ghafuri, head of foreign media affairs for the Kurdistan Regional Government, said security forces were investigating the explosion. The airport was undamaged and flights were operating as usual, he wrote on Twitter.

Haval Abu Bakr, Sulaymaniyah provincial governor, said the explosion was the result of “aerial bombardment”.

A statement from the Iraqi Presidency on Saturday blamed Turkey, which closed its air space to flights from Sulaymaniyah this week in response to what it said was increased activity by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.

“Turkish military operations are repeated in the Kurdistan region, the latest of which was the bombing of the Sulaymaniyah civilian airport, and as we condemn these blatant attacks on Iraq and its sovereignty, we affirm that there is no legal justification that authorises the Turkish forces to continue their approach in terrorising peaceful civilians under the pretext of the presence of anti-Iraqi forces on Iraqi soil,” the Presidency statement said.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani sent National Security Adviser Qassim Al Araji to Sulaymaniyah on Saturday at the head of a high-level security delegation, INA reported, quoting a statement from Mr Al Araji's office.

The Wall Street Journal and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the attack was intended to kill Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS in Syria.

“The leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces has survived an attack by a Turkish drone in the vicinity of the Sulaymaniyah airport,” the UK-based Observatory said.

However, the SDF's media centre denied the reports, saying “the aim of publishing such news is political blackmail against some forces in the Kurdistan region of Iraq”, the Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.

The attack caused no casualties and the US military is investigating, according to officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal and the Observatory.

“We can confirm there was a strike on a convoy Friday in Sulaymaniyah that included US military personnel. Fortunately, we can also confirm there were no casualties,” Pentagon spokesman Philip Ventura told Rudaw.

A post on the SDF's leader's Twitter account on Saturday accused Turkey of carrying out the attack.

“We strongly condemn the targeting of Sulaymaniyah Airport by Turkey. These violations continue in Iraq and Syria and have serious dimensions against the region,” Mr Abdi said.

“The position of the National Patriotic Union in support of its brothers in Syria is disturbing Turkey. We will continue our principled relations with our brothers and allies in Sulaymaniyah, and we are united against these violations,” he said, referring to Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two dominant parties in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Turkey considers the YPG Kurdish militia in Syria, the dominant force in the SDF, to be part of the PKK and has carried out military campaigns to drive Syrian Kurdish forces away from its southern border.

Ankara has carried also out numerous attacks against PKK targets inside Iraqi territory, as well as sent troops into northern Iraq.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is also designated as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.

Updated: April 08, 2023, 12:59 PM