President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq echoed Turkey’s position and said the terrorist group known as the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the U.S.-backed Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria “are exactly one and the same thing.”
Turkey has linked the PYD, which controls large swathes of northern Syria, and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to the communist separatist PKK.
The United States, Turkey, and many of their allies have deemed the PKK a terrorist group. However, while Turkey considers the PYD to be a terrorist group as well, the United States does not.
On Thursday, the Turkish military announced it had carried out new airstrikes targeting the PKK positions in northern Iraq. The airstrikes were launched in response to recent attacks in Turkey claimed by a PKK offshoot.
“Any support to the PYD means support for the PKK,” Barzani told Al-Monitor. “They are exactly one and the same thing,” added the KRG leader.
The U.S. considers the YPG forces an effective ally on the ground against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria. Barzani spoke to Al-Monitor in the KRG capital Erbil.
Asked if the U.S. believed that the PYD and the PKK are the same, Barzani responded, “They know very well, but they don’t want to say they know very well. … You know the top priority for us and the Americans is the fight against [ISIL], so they might turn a blind eye.”
The U.S. has warned the PYD against supporting the PKK in Turkey.
Barzani told Al-Monitor, “The PKK should leave [the Iraqi border town of] Sinjar, and we want them to leave Sinjar peacefully — not by force.”
Russia has provided military aid to the KRG’s Peshmerga fighters who have been combating ISIS on the ground with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
Kurds and Iraq and Syria have declared their desire to form independent states. The Obama administration has come out against the PYD’s declaration of a federalized region, but has not officially taken a position on the Iraqi Kurds’ renewed call for an independent country.
A State Department spokesman told Breitbart News that the Syrian people will have to ultimately decide whether Kurds should be allowed to establish their own region in northern Syria.
“The United States has not and will not recognize a ‘self-rule’ semi-autonomous zone. We remain committed to the unity and territorial integrity of Syria,” said the spokesperson.
“We are focused on advancing a genuine, negotiated political transition towards an inclusive government that is capable of serving the interests of all the Syrian people,” the official continued. “This issue will have to be addressed by Syrians themselves during a political transition.”