Turkey has expressed its condolences to the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after airstrikes led to the deaths of several Peshmerga soldiers but vowed to continue operations in the region following attacks on Syrian Kurdish and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in both countries this week.
The Iraqi Parliament has reportedly begun proceedings to expel the PKK, a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group, from northern Sinjar, while the United States expressed its “deep concerns” about expanded Turkish involvement against Kurdish groups in both Syria and Iraq.
The Iraqi airstrikes, the Turkish government argued, were meant to target the PKK, not the KRG’s Peshmerga, who have opposed any PKK presence in the region. In Syria, Turkey targeted the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), who Ankara consider an extension of the PKK. The YPG cooperate with both the United States and Russia on the ground against the Islamic State and are considered among the most successful forces against ISIS in Syria.
“[The] US expresses deep concerns; strikes not coordinated with, nor approved by, coalition; led to unfortunate loss of life,” Brett McGurk, the American special envoy for the coalition against ISIS, said on Twitter this week. State Department spokesman Mark Toner used almost the exact same language to tell reporters on Wednesday that the airstrikes against U.S. allies and the PKK “were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces.”
Toner made clear the United States expressed displeasure at the airstrikes, answering a reporter that America had affirmatively told Turkey to stop attacking the YPG.
The Shiite-led Iraqi government of Baghdad has repeatedly demanded that Turkey keep its military out of Iraq, both against the PKK and in operations against the Islamic State. The Kurdish outlet Rudaw reported Wednesday that the Iraqi parliament Defence and Security Committee will investigate the attacks and take action to keep both Turkish forces and the PKK out of the region.
“We have two recommendations; that this must be the last Turkish attack in the Kurdistan Region; and that if the Iraqi government supports the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), they can move the group to the Qandil Mountain if they want to use them against Turkey,” Shakhawan Abdulla, a Kurdish member of the committee, told reporters, according to Rudaw.
“We do not support the presence of the PKK or any other oppositional group in Iraq launching attacks against regional countries,” Iraqi Shiite lawmaker Muhammad Jasim added. Bas News, another Kurdish outlet, reported that Iraqi lawmakers are drafting legislation to expel the PKK and “all foreign armed groups” in the region, particularly targeting the PKK.
The PKK is active in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. It is particularly active in northern Sinjar province, home to most of the nation’s Yazidi religious minority. PKK leaders claim to be training a Yazidi militia to protect against subsequent Islamic State attacks and refuse to leave Sinjar until order is restored. ISIS fled Sinjar in 2015, though much of the region remains in ruins.
The Turkish operations this week reported killed at least eighteen fighters, including Peshmerga. The Peshmerga are allied with Turkey and oppose the PKK, keeping a distance from the YPG. Local advocacy groups reported that the airstrikes also targeted Christian and Yazidi communities in the region, however, because of their ties to the YPG and PKK.
Turkey has issued condolences to the Peshmerga and categorically denied that they intentionally targeted them. Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to “express their sadness,” calling the incident a “mistake.”
Erdogan clarified that the mistake, however, would not result in an end to Turkish operations, and the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency has since published articles suggesting that the American approach of treating the YPG and PKK differently is wrong. On Thursday, for example, Anadolu ran an infographic claiming that the PKK is known to operate alongside Syrian Kurdish forces:
Anadolu also published an opinion piece arguing that Turkey needs to maintain a presence in Iraq and Syria as long as the PKK also maintains one.