The President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has appeared to take the side of the Turkish government regarding recently launched airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), calling the U.S.-designated terrorist group “arrogant” and praising Turkey for taking a “positive” role in attempting peace talks with the PKK.
“The Turkish government has taken positive steps, and has adopted a positive attitude for a peaceful resolution; however, we have seen that some sides (the PKK) has taken [sic] it as a matter of pride and did not utilize these opportunities,” Barzani said in statements on Monday.
Barzani noted he felt compelled to make a personal statement against the PKK “because there were wrong interpretations and information being given in my name,” additionally condemning the group for the killing of two Turkish officers, which Barzani noted “will not solve any problems in Turkey.” He added, “Many times we sent messages to the PKK to remain patient and wait, because the peace process takes time and is not an easy process.” The PKK ended a two-year ceasefire with the killing of two Turkish police officers this weekend.
“Concerning the attitude of Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party, we do not represent Turkey’s politics and we are not responsible for the PKK’s politics,” Barzani stated definitively, “What we can offer is to help get them together to settle their issues through dialogue and mutual understanding.”
Tensions between Turkish and Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government escalated last week as the Turkish government, responding to an Islamic State-led terror attack in the border town of Suruç, announced a new airstrike campaign in Syria that would also target Kurdish facilities. The Turkish military have so far attacked “shelters, bunkers, caves, storage facilities,” and other key PKK areas.
Turkey has called for a special NATO meeting to discuss the airstrikes, as well as giving the American military permission to use Turkish sites as launching bases for strikes on ISIS in Syria.
While Barzani’s remarks condemning the PKK were unequivocal, whether the Iraqi Kurdish government supports the Turkish airstrikes remains more ambiguous. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu claimed to the press this week that Barzani had “expressed his solidarity with Turkey” in its military actions. Barzani described what he had expressed to Davutoğlu as “displeasure.”
The Iraqi Kurdish leadership has routinely expressed suspicion regarding the PKK, which is widely considered by many states, including America, a Marxist terrorist group. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s head of intelligence, Masrour Barzani (son of the president), said in an interview as recently as early July that the PKK had “no role to play” in Iraq and was generally unwelcome by Iraq’s Kurds. Of those PKK-affiliated Kurds helping fight the Islamic State in northern Sinjar, the younger Barzani said, “They should pull out and they must because the people of Sinjar will determine their own future and this is Iraqi Kurdistan. Would the PKK be happy if a Kurdish political party inside Iraq meddled in the affairs of Diyarbakir or Mardin?”
The airstrikes follow years of attempted peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government. PKK leaders have been demanding the release of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist currently serving his sixteenth year of a life sentence. Turkey has, instead, attempted peace talks with Ocalan directly from prison. The talks resulted in the declaration of a ceasefire in 2013, only recently broken. Tensions between the PKK and the Turkish government have significantly hindered the fight against the Islamic State, which has functioned both as an enemy of the Kurds and an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Turkish government has long declared a foe. Syrian Kurdish forces have protested that Turkey has done little, if anything, to stop the spread of ISIS jihadists in their territories.