Turkey warns Baghdad it could 'cleanse' refugee camp hosting PKK fighters

Makhmour camp is located in northern Iraq, just south of the Turkish border

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party's lawmakers, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 23. 2020. Turkey’s president has lashed out against the European Court of Human Rights after its ruling that Turkey must immediately release a prominent Kurdish politician. Speaking to his ruling party lawmakers Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called imprisoned politician Selahattin Demirtas a “terrorist” and accused the European court of “defending a terrorist.” (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan warned Iraq on Thursday that Ankara will "cleanse" a refugee camp for providing a safe haven for Kurdish militants, threatening to push his military campaign further into Iraqi territory.

Mr Erdogan said the Makhmour camp, located 180 kilometres south of the Turkish border and which has hosted Turkish refugees for more than 20 years, was an "incubator" for Kurdish militias that belong to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“It must be shut down,” he told the local news broadcaster TRT.

"If the United Nations does not do anything to cleanse it then we will do so as a member state of the UN," Mr Erdogan said.

For years Turkey has been battling an insurgency carried out by the PKK since the early 1980s.

Ankara has carried out numerous cross-border incursions into Iraq over the years to fight the militant group, which maintains bases in the region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the insurgency in Turkey’s majority Kurdish south-east region began in 1984.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.

"How long do we have to be patient?” Mr Erdogan said.

The Turkish president believes that Makhmour camp poses a threat no less than the one posed by the Qandil Mountains, a PKK stronghold also located in northern Iraq.

Ankara last week complained to Baghdad about "terrorist activities launched by the PKK from their camp in Makhmour against Turkey," an Iraqi official told Reuters.

In this photo provided by the Turkish Ministry of Defence on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, Turkish troops in action against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. Turkey says it has airlifted troops for a cross-border ground operation against Turkey's Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Defense Ministry in Ankara says the airborne offensive in Iraq’s border region of Haftanin was launched on Wednesday following intense artillery fire into the area. The ministry says commando forces are being supported by warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery and armed and unarmed drones. (Turkish Ministry of Defence via AP)
Turkish commandos in northern Iraq. Turkish Ministry of Defence via AP

Security commanders and local officials investigated the Turkish complaint and told the government that the Makhmour camp was controlled by PKK fighters who did not allow access to government forces, the official said.

Makhmour camp was established in the early 1990s when thousands of Kurds from Turkey crossed the border in a movement Ankara believes was deliberately provoked by the PKK.

Last June, Ankara launched a major air and ground operation against the PKK in northern Iraq.

The operation, dubbed operation Claw-Tiger, lasted for three months, and was launched to “neutralise the PKK and other terrorist elements from northern Iraq” to ensure security along the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Ankara carried out air and ground attacks in areas where it believes the group was hiding.

Iraq protested against the Turkish strikes on its territory.