Iraq summons Turkey, Iran as operations against Kurdish groups continue

Turkey cites past agreements for its operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party in Iraq, while Iran is also targeting Kurdish groups in the country.

al-monitor Turkish soldiers in a tank and an armored vehicle patrol on the road to the town of Beytussebab in the southeastern Sirnak province, Turkey, Sept. 28, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

Jun 19, 2020

Iraq summoned the ambassadors from Iran and Turkey on Thursday due to their ongoing military actions against Kurdish groups in the country.

Iraq demanded in a statement Turkey stop its military actions against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq. Iraq also sent a statement to Iran protesting its attacks on Kurdish groups within Iraq, saying the recent shelling damaged property, according to the Associated Press.

Turkey is currently conducting large ground and air campaigns in Iraq against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Turkey that fights for greater Kurdish rights and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara. The PKK has long based itself in the Qandil Mountains in the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq near the border with Turkey. The PKK also has a presence in the predominantly Yazidi city of Sinjar and the refugee camp for Kurds from Turkey in Makhmour, south of the Kurdistan Region capital Erbil. Turkey has hit all these areas this week and some civilians have been killed. Turkey’s operations followed recent bombings in Turkish-controlled Afrin, Syria and in Turkey that Ankara blamed on the PKK.

At the same time, Iran is shelling the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan within Iraqi territory. Kurdish groups from Iran also operate within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq near the Iranian border.

Iraq’s formal protest to Iran is notable given the strong political and economic ties between the two. Iraq has criticized Iran for such acts in the past, though. Iraq condemned the deadly Iranian strike on an Iranian-Kurdish party’s headquarters in the Kurdistan Region town of Koya in 2018. Other periodic bombings by Iran of Iranian Kurdish groups in Iraq have not received a response from Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq was criticized for not officially condemning Turkey’s actions at first, but it released a statement on the issue late Friday addressing both Turkey and the PKK. "We demand the Turkish republic respect the sovereignty of our lands and homeland and for the Kurdistan Workers Party to leave these regions," read the statement.

 The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the largest in the KRG, has an oil-based relationship with Turkey and poor relations with the PKK. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second-largest party in the KRG, did call on Baghdad to stop the attacks and protect civilians. The PUK is historically closer with the PKK. There were protests against Turkey’s operations in the Kurdistan Region city of Sulaimaniyah yesterday.

Turkey cites agreements from years ago for its operations in Iraq, and Turkey maintains several bases in the Kurdistan Region. In the 1990s, Turkey signed an agreement with Iraq — then led by Saddam Hussein — to pursue the PKK across the border. Cooperation between the KDP and Turkey also began at this time. Turkey also received authorization to deploy to Iraq from the US-brokered cease-fire between the KDP and PUK following the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in 1997, according to the Jamestown Foundation.

Turkey has remained defiant in the face of criticism from Iraq.

“[The operations] target the PKK terrorist organization, which threatens Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as the national security of our country,” Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildiz tweeted in Arabic on Thursday.

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