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Turkey launches fresh airstrikes in Iraq as Erdogan renews threats for offensive

The strikes come as Ankara renews its threats of a fresh offensive in northern Iraq against the outlawed Kurdish militants and criticizes Iran and an Iraqi Kurdish political party for their lack of action to Turkey’s security concerns.
This picture taken on April 25, 2023, shows a shrapnel-pocked walled in the village of Hiror near the Turkish border in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, where firefights occur between the Turkish army and fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

ANKARA — Turkey launched new airstrikes against the positions of Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Monday, as Ankara ramps up its threats of a fresh military operation in the region.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said 16 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were killed in the strikes conducted in the northern Iraqi regions of Hakurk, Metina and Gara.

Headquartered in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. 

A video shared on the ministry’s X account showed an F-16 fighter jet taking off from an unspecified airbase then hitting several targets in the region. 

Turkey’s counterterrorism operations are “continuing at an increasing pace,” Defense Minister Yasar Guler said in an address to the Turkish army’s top brass on Monday.

The fresh strikes came as Ankara renewed its threats of a large-scale military offensive in the region. “It is not possible for us to feel safe as long as the PKK finds a breathing space in Iraq and Syria,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said later on Monday in a televised speech after a cabinet meeting in Ankara. “We will deliver the final blow to the separatist organization, whose maneuver room is shrinking.”

Turkey also accuses the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main ally of the US-led anti ISIS coalition in Syria, of having ties with the PKK.

Guler also issued a similar warning last week when he criticized an Iraqi Kurdish political party, as well as Iran, for what he described as their lack of action against the Kurdish militants.

He said the PKK “moves, operates and trains its fighters freely” in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniyah, which borders Iran and is under the control of the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

He added that the PKK militants were forced to retreat toward the southern parts of Iraqi Kurdistan by Turkish military operations in the region, but that the Iraqi side was failing to take any action to counter them. “Thus, we have to do whatever is necessary, and we will do it," Guler said during a televised interview.

Turkey, which maintains more than a hundred military outposts in northern Iraq, accuses the PUK — one of the two dominant political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan — of cooperating with the PKK.

Turkey has kept its airspace closed for flights to and from the international Sulaimaniyah airport since April in a bid to increase pressure on the PUK, which is headed by Bafel Talabani, the son of late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The Iraqi central government designated the PKK as a banned organization last month but stopped short of declaring it a "terrorist organization" — a long-sought demand by Ankara. Guler said the coordination between Ankara and Baghdad has increased since the move.

Rare criticism of Iran

Expressing rare criticism toward Iran, Guler also lamented Tehran’s lack of action against PKK militants who fled to Iranian territory, despite Ankara sharing their locations with Tehran.

"We can establish their location through our armed drones or surveillance drones. We share this information with our Iranian friends. However, the response they give us is, ‘We checked out that location. Nobody is there.’ This is not an amiable approach,” Guler said.

"We convey our unease frequently, and they approach us positively, but we cannot get any results,” he added.