The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confirmed late on Saturday that Friday’s drone strike on the airport in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq had targeted its commander.
The SDF initially denied that Mazloum Abdi was the target, refraining from discussing the incident “until his safe arrival to the regions of northern and eastern Syria,” the group’s spokesman Farhad Shami said in a statement.
Mr Abdi escaped unharmed, Mr Shami added. “We will publish the details of the attack later,” he said.
The attack, which took place in the vicinity of the airport, caused no casualties. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but Iraqis have blamed Ankara which has been targeting Turkish dissident groups based in Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Saturday implicitly blamed one of the region’s main political parties for the attack.
For decades, the main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have shared power in the region.
Although the three-province region has a president and is run by a regional government, the provinces of Erbil and Dahuk are under the control of the KDP, while the PUK controls Sulaymaniyah.
“We express grave concerns about the attack on Sulaimaniyah International Airport,” KRG spokesman Jodtia Adel said in a statement on Saturday.
“This terrible situation has been caused by the misuse of government institutions by the area’s ruling party,” Mr Adel said, referring to the PUK.
The KRG has linked the closure of the air space to the crash last month of two helicopters in the northern city of Duhok, killing at least nine people. The SDF confirmed that the helicopters carried its members and there has been widespread speculation as to how the militia obtained the aircraft, with some alleging they were donated by the US.
Last week, Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told Turkish media that the US had no connection to the helicopter incident. The KDP also alleged that the helicopters were carrying some members of the PKK, although the SDF, releasing the names of the victims, said all were members of its force.
“The behaviour of an authoritarian party in Sulaimaniyah led to the closure of Turkish airspace to flights from Sulaimaniyah International Airport,” Mr Adel said.
“As a result, citizens in the region pay the price of their leader’s mistakes,” he said, adding that the “region’s leadership must now take positive steps to resolve this complicated and dangerous situation”.
The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, initially seeking an independent Kurdish state before changing its demands and seeking an autonomous Kurdish region within Turkey. The conflict has killed about 40,000, many of them civilians.
The group has training camps and bases in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and is designated a terrorist group by the US and EU.
Ankara has launched a series of military operations against PKK fighters in Iraq and Syria, causing casualties among fighters and civilians.
Iraqi Kurdistan has complicated relations with the PKK because its presence in the region impedes trade relations with neighbouring Turkey.