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Sinjar on brink of major conflict between PKK, Turkey

The city of Sinjar, west of Mosul, seems close to becoming a battleground for armed confrontations between the PKK and the Turkish army, especially after Ankara called for ground intervention against PKK fighters in Sinjar to prevent them from having a new base in the north of Iraq.
Bullets lie next to a gun at a Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) check point, a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq, April 30, 2016. They share little more than an enemy and struggle to communicate on the battlefield, but together two relatively obscure groups have opened up a new front against Islamic State militants in a remote corner of Iraq. The unlikely alliance between the Sinjar Resistance Units, an offshoot of a leftist Kurdish organ

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region of Iraq — In a May 8 meeting with the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad, Iraqi Vice President and prominent Sunni leader Osama al-Nujaifi said that the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq is destructive and the PKK is a threat to the region, just as the Islamic State is.

Iraqi officials and authorities have been stressing the need for diplomacy to deal with any Turkish intervention in Iraq following April 25 air raids by Turkish forces on the PKK headquarters in the Sinjar Mountains. However, Sinjar District member of parliament Majed Sinjari did not rule out armed confrontations between the two sides should Turkey hit Iraqi territory in the future.

Sinjari told Al-Monitor, “Escalation and one-upmanship will occur to the detriment of both sides. If the attacks are repeated and Turkey makes a ground intervention, the rhetoric will change and there will be armed confrontations.”

The Iraqi government and parliament, the Peshmerga Ministry in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and many other political forces condemned the Turkish raids on Sinjar, which also targeted peshmerga forces' sites located near the PKK headquarters, killing five peshmerga fighters and wounding nine others.

In a press statement, Kurdistan Security Council adviser Masrour Barzani said that the Turkish raids on Sinjar came as a surprise to the Kurdistan Regional Government and the KRG demanded clarifications from Ankara.

Sinjari called on Baghdad to coordinate with Erbil to remove the PKK and any other non-Iraqi forces from Iraqi territory, noting that the PKK’s presence gives ground for Turkey’s intervention in the Sinjar Mountains and other areas.

“Baghdad should take advantage of the support of the US-led coalition to remove the PKK and pressure Turkey to withdraw its forces from Bashiqa and not to carry out any aggression on Iraqi territory,” Sinjari said.

Sinjari indicated that the Iraqi government provides PKK-affiliated Sinjar Defense Units (HPS) with weapons, funds and military equipment. “There has been talk that many Yazidis belong to the PKK and are now affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units [PMU] and receive their salaries from Baghdad.”

Sinjari said the threatening language employed by Ankara is aimed at pressuring the Iraqi federal government to remove the PKK and stop funding and arming its members.

Brig. Halku Hikmat, director general of the Information and Culture Department in the KRG Peshmerga Ministry, said the PKK forces’ presence in Sinjar is unconstitutional and illegal.

He said PKK forces are still on the list of terrorist groups in the world. “If Turkey wishes to take future measures against these forces, there should be greater coordination between them [Turkish officials] and us in order to avoid any attack on the peshmerga forces,” Hikmat told Al-Monitor.

Hikmat said that after the raids on Sinjar, the Turkish consul in Kurdistan and the Turkish president and prime minister expressed regret that the peshmerga forces were affected. Hikmat said both Ankara and Erbil do not want such an incident to happen again.

Asked how peshmerga forces would react should Turkey repeat the attacks on Sinjar, Hikmat said, “Turkey’s attacks on the PKK are related to the international coalition more than to the position of Kurdistan and the peshmerga. The international coalition is working against terrorism and should have an understanding with Turkey to this effect.”

He said the KRG asked the PKK members to withdraw from Sinjar. The HPS was formed by the PKK in the Sinjar Mountains when IS took control of the Yazidi-dominated city and its villages and towns in early August 2014. The HPS fighters are trained by the PKK, who directly command these forces in Sinjar.

HPS leader Kandil Sinjari said Turkey is likely to take ground military action against HPA fighters in Sinjar, while adding that they were ready to face any military attacks. “Our resistance to any future Turkish attacks will be in the form of popular protests and military resistance. We will defend ourselves against the Turkish army. We are ready for this confrontation and we have no problem with that,” he told Al-Monitor.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated recently his country’s intention to take ground action against the PKK in Sinjar.

Kandil Sinjari accused Ankara of supporting IS. “This is not the first time Turkey attacks us. When IS attacked Sinjar, the Turkish state was supporting it. As long as IS is present on the border of this area we will fight it, although Ankara does not want us to do so. If Turkey’s goal was to eliminate and expel IS, it would have helped us in the fight against the terrorist organization,” he said.

Peshmerga leader Jamal Murtaka told Al-Monitor the United States may need to deploy forces in Sinjar. “The US might send out forces to Sinjar in the future." He indicated this could cause some minor problems with the PKK, which he said "is implementing the agendas of regional countries in Sinjar and working on stirring up problems, not to the mention the PMU and other movements implementing regional countries’ agendas in the area.” 

Informed Iraqi political sources said repeated Turkish military interventions could prompt the KRG and the Iraqi government to use the US card to expel the PKK from Sinjar. Meanwhile, other political parties are seeking to implement the strategic framework agreement between Baghdad and Washington, whereby the United States would protect Iraq from any external interference.

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