Despite rivalry, KRG calls on Turkey to stop operation on PKK’s Syrian affiliate

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
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The parliament of northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has controversially issued a statement on Turkey's operation in Afrin against the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate group, despite the known rivalry between the KRG leadership and the PKK.

A statement was released by the parliament, calling the international community to stand against Operation Olive Branch being conducted against the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), as well as Daesh terrorists.

"We denounce the Turkish invasive attack against Afrin and call on the United Nations and international community to immediately take action," the KRG parliament said in a statement.

KRG leadership has previously acknowledged the PKK's role in the instability in the region, particularly in Iraq's Sinjar. KRG Prime Minister Masoud Barzani had previously said that the KRG was considering using force should the PKK refuse to remove its militants from Sinjar.

Recent remarks from the KRG government, as well as the media channels with close links to Irbil government have increased the tone of opposition to Ankara's position against the YPG. Irbil's rhetoric against the operation in Afrin, a move mostly calculated based on domestic dynamics and the electorate in KRG, is expected to further strain the ties with Ankara. The Turkish side has not yet commented on the KRG's recent remarks.

Tensions rose in the region when the KRG held an independence referendum on Sept. 25, 2017 and Kurds overwhelmingly voted to secede. The referendum faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors, including Iraq's neighbors - Turkey and Iran. Baghdad imposed tough measures and launched operations to take over border gates and airports in the KRG.

In response to the referendum, Iraqi government forces and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias launched an offensive on Oct. 16 and reclaimed contested areas, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, in a mostly bloodless advance.

The PKK had also voiced criticism on the KRG's referendum bid at the time, when the PKK's senior leader, Duran Kalkan, defined the KRG's referendum decision as "propaganda" and said that "Kurdish people do not need a state."

Speaking to the Kurdish Nerina Azad news outlet, Kalkan said the idea of an independent Kurdish state was firstly brought by the PKK and he accused the KRG of "trying to discredit the PKK in the eyes of the public."

The PKK's headquarters are also in northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains, which Turkey frequently targets in airstrikes. Previously, the KRG's Goran Party and the Patriotic Union Party (PUK) had voiced strong opposition to Turkey's operation, including a proposal to send troops, if needed.

Last September, 15 peshmerga fighters were wounded when a bus was attacked by the PKK terrorists in a roadside bombing in the town of Sinjar. Initially blamed on Daesh, the KRG's West Dicle Chief of Police Aşti Koçer had then said that the bomb was likely brought from a PKK-controlled region and possibly planted by PKK terrorists, rather than Daesh militants.

"It seems that PKK terrorists learned the time schedule of peshmerga's guard change and detonated the bomb via remote control at the Sinjar border as peshmerga forces were on the way to their posts," Koçer told Anadolu Agency (AA), adding that this tactic is relatively new and that officials will take measures to prevent further incidents.

The PKK is recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU, the U.K. and Turkey.

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