Turkey attacks Kurdish group in Iraq, complicating ISIS fight
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.
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.