Turkey flies commandos into Iraq in cross-border raid against Kurdish PKK

Iraqi officials denounce incursion after days of heavy air strikes that were condemned by Arab states

The Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, and army commanders after cross-border air strikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. AFP
The Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, and army commanders after cross-border air strikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. AFP

Iraqi officials have protested against the attack on its sovereignty and the safety of its citizens after Turkey flew special forces into the Iraqi Kurdish regional governorate for a ground operation against militants.

The operation in Iraq’s Haftanin region, about 15 kilometres from the border, was launched after intense artillery fire into the area, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.

While the Iraqi government is yet to make an official statement, officials in Baghdad, including the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, condemned Turkey’s action on Wednesday.

“The continued Turkish attacks and shelling on Iraqi territory is a violation of national sovereignty and a blatant threat to the security of civilians,” the committee said.

“We call on the Iraqi government to carry out its duties of protecting its citizens and putting an end to this issue."

Turkish commandos in northern Iraq are being supported by warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery and armed and unarmed drones. Turkish Ministry of Defence via AP
In this photo provided by the Turkish Defence Ministry on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, reportedly shows Turkish troops in action against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. Turkish Ministry of Defence via AP

A Turkish military official said the operation began with artillery units firing on about 150 suspected Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) positions and was followed by an aerial attack involving F-16s, drones and attack helicopters.

The PKK has been fighting an insurgency against Turkey since 1984.

"Our commandos, who are supported by combat helicopters and drones, have been transported by our air force," the Turkish ministry tweeted.

Some of the commandos crossed the border by land while other units were flown in by helicopters. The troops had begun to enter PKK hideouts in Haftanin, the official said.

It was not clear if the latest offensive would target the Sinjar region, which the Turkish government says has become a new base for PKK commanders.

The ministry did not say how many troops were involved but tried to justify the operation as a response to a “recent surge in attacks on our police stations and military bases" near the Iraqi border.

The military said it was also targeting other groups in the region, but did not name them.

“Iraqi national sovereignty is a basic principle that everyone must respect," said Ala Talabani, a member of the Iraqi Parliament.

"I urge the Foreign Ministry to hold an emergency meeting, provided that the federal government holds a responsible attitude towards all repeated violations."

The Iraqi border is strictly the responsibility of the federal government, an Iraqi official from the Kurdish Democratic Party told The National.

“In the past, we have condemned such operations that caused thousands of families to leave their homes and livelihoods in 600 villages,” he said.

“We’ve asked the PKK, Turkey and Iran, as well as Kurdish parties, to refrain from using the Kurdistan region to attack neighbouring countries.

"Unfortunately, this has not prevented Turkey or Iran from moving into the Kurdistan region.

Iraqi politician and member of the Kurdish Change Movement, Sarkwat Shams, said that the KDP was co-operating with Turkey on these operations.

"Ankara's move should give a message to Baghdad that KDP's co-operation with Turkey will weaken Iraq’s integrity and unity," Mr Shams said.

"People in the Kurdish region feel that they are being ignored and are left without support from Baghdad."

The KDP must be held accountable for its actions, he said.

The move is likely to increase friction between Ankara and Baghdad, which on Tuesday summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest against air strikes on Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq this week.

“A letter was given to the Turkish ambassador that stated the Iraqi government's condemnation of violations of the sanctity and sovereignty of Iraq and the Iraqi airspace,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf.

Iraq urged Turkey to stop conducting “unilateral military operations and expressed the government's readiness for joint co-operation in controlling border security in a manner that secures the interests of both sides,” Mr Al Sahaf said.

Turkey regularly hits militants from the PKK operating out of Iraq but a ground operation is an escalation.

Wednesday’s incursion is the first known airborne and land offensive.

Turkey has defended its past operations into northern Iraq, saying neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have acted to remove PKK fighters who it alleges use Iraq’s territory to stage attacks on Turkey.

The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south-east region.

It is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

The ground operation came days after Turkey launched an air operation in the region, which the Defence Ministry said hit suspected PKK targets in several locations in Iraq’s north, including Sinjar, and targeted 81 rebel hideouts.

This week Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in response to a massive round of air strikes by Turkey.

The Arab League also condemned Turkey’s actions.

Ankara’s “military intervention in Arab lands, whether in Iraq, Syria or Libya, has become a cause for concern", Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said yesterday.

Most Arab countries “disapproved of its military presence”, Mr Aboul Gheit said.

The Arab League’s council adopted a resolution in March in favour of a unified Arab approach towards Turkey and condemned Ankara’s continued intervention in Iraq.

Updated: June 18, 2020 02:20 PM

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