Tur­key at­tacks Kur­dish group in Iraq, com­pli­cat­ing ISIS fight

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY LIZ SLY liz.sly@wash­post.com

beirut — Turk­ish war­planes struck­Kur­dish mil­i­tants in north­ern Iraq early Satur­day, ex­pand­ing and com­pli­cat­ing the air war launched by Tur­key against the Is­lamic State in Syria the day be­fore.

The strikes tar­geted weapon­sstor­age fa­cil­i­ties and camps be­long­ing to the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party, or PKK, at its Mount Qandil head­quar­ters in the re­mote moun­tains of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment state­ment.

For the sec­ond night in a row, there were also strikes against the Is­lamic State in Syria, in­di­cat­ing that Tur­key is now ac­tively en­gaged in the war against the mil­i­tants af­ter months on the side­lines.

The strikes against Kurds in Iraq opened a sec­ond front for Tur­key, ef­fec­tively end­ing a twoyear truce with the PKK that had been a sig­na­ture achieve­ment of then-Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s gov­ern­ment.

The PKK is­sued a state­ment say­ing that the cease-fire, which had al­ready been strained by a num­ber of PKK at­tacks in Tur­key, is now off. “This truce has no mean­ing any­more,” it said.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly main­tained that it re­gards the Is­lamic State and the PKK as equally cul­pa­ble of ter­ror­ism. Now that Tur­key is bomb­ing both of them, author­i­ties are braced for a po­ten­tial wave of re­tal­ia­tory at­tacks by ei­ther.

The tar­get­ing of Kur­dish mil­i­tants will also com­pli­cate the United States’ air war against the Is­lamic State, which has re­lied heav­ily on a PKK-al­lied group of Syr­i­anKurds to make ad­vances in north­ern Syria.

The United States, like Tur­key, has des­ig­nated thePKKa ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, but un­like Tur­key it does not ap­ply the la­bel to the PKK’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate, the Demo­cratic Union Party, or PYD, thereby mak­ing co­op­er­a­tion pos­si­ble.

The at­tacks stirred up ten­sions be­tween Tur­key and Kur­dish groups across the com­plex spec­trum of al­liances and ri­val­ries span­ning the ter­ri­to­ries in Tur­key, Iraq and Syria that Kurds claim as their home­land.

PYD leader Saleh Mus­lim said he did not ex­pect the Turk­ish at­tacks on the PKK to di­rectly af­fect his group’s oper­a­tions in Syria or its col­lab­o­ra­tion with the United States. “There is noPKKin Ro­java,” he said, us­ing the name ap­plied by Kurds to the ter­ri­tory they claim in north­ern Syria and re­ject­ing an al­le­ga­tion fre­quently made by Turks and Syr­ian Arabs that the PKK is deeply en­gaged in the bat­tles there.

He said the bomb­ings in north­ern Iraq ques­tion Tur­key’s em­brace of the fight against the Is­lamic State and sug­gested that Tur­key had agreed to par­tic­i­pate in the U.S.-led war as an ex­cuse to take on theKurds. The agree­ment with the United States in­cludes per­mis­sion for U.S. war­planes to use Turk­ish ter­ri­tory to launch at­tacks against the Is­lamic State.

“I think it’s a kind of show to say, ‘I am against Daesh.’ I think they are not sin­cere,” Mus­lim said, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the Is­lamic State.

“All the world knows the Kurds are fight­ing against Daesh. Even the PKK is fight­ing against Daesh in north­ern Iraq. So what they are do­ing is a kind of sup­port to Daesh be­cause they don’t want PKK to fight against Daesh in Iraq.”

Ten­sions also sur­faced be­tween the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment and Massoud Barzani, pres­i­dent of the Iraqi re­gion of Kur­dis­tan where the PKK bases were hit. Barzani is no ally of the PKK, but for decades his gov­ern­ment has tol­er­ated the pres­ence of PKK camps in the in­ac­ces­si­ble moun­tains in ter­ri­to­ries bor­der­ing Iraq, Iran and Tur­key that are be­yond the reach of author­i­ties in any of those coun­tries. Some PKK fight­ers have fought along­side U.S.-al­lied Kur­dish forces in bat­tles against the Is­lamic State in Iraq.

Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu told re­porters in Ankara that Barzani “ex­pressed his sol­i­dar­ity” with Tur­key in an hour-long tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion Satur­day morn­ing. A state­ment from Barzani’s of­fice said, how­ever, that the Kur­dish leader had “ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure” with the air raids.

The strikes came at the end of a weekof vi­o­lence in which thePKK in Tur­key as well as the Is­lamic State had car­ried out at­tacks. The PKK has long ac­cused Tur­key of co­op­er­at­ing with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, and af­ter a sui­cide bomber killed 30 peo­ple at a gath­er­ing of Kurds in the south­ern Turk­ish town of Su­ruc, the Kur­dish group re­tal­i­ated by shoot­ing two Turk­ish po­lice­men.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of fur­ther do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, Turk­ish po­lice have de­tained nearly 600 sus­pected Is­lamic State, Kur­dish and other left­ist mil­i­tants in na­tion­wide raids over the past two weeks.

Tur­key had regularly bombed PKK tar­gets in north­ern Iraq through­out the lat­ter years of the last decade with the ap­proval of the United States, which con­trolled Iraqi airspace at the time. The last strikes were in 2011.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment’s state­ment said Tur­key had in­formed its NATO al­lies and the United Na­tions ahead of the strikes in Iraq.

YASIN AKGUL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Protesters take cover from awa­ter cannon in Is­tan­bul. Tur­key be­gan launch­ing airstrikes at the Is­lamic State in Syria then opened a sec­ond front in Iraq against the Kur­dis­tanWork­ers Party (PKK). The United States has re­lied heav­ily on a PKK-al­lied group of Syr­ian Kurds in the fight against the Is­lamic State.

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