The leadership of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has condemned Turkish air strikes against positions of Kurdish fighters in its autonomous region, echoing the remarks of the leadership earlier.
Masoud Barzani, president of KRG, spoke to Ahmed Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, over telephone on Saturday and “expressed his displeasure with the dangerous level the situation has reached”, according to a KRG statement.
|Turkey’s two-pronged offensive|
Zeina Khodr reports from the Turkish city of Gaziantep:
For Turkey, ISIL declared war when it bombed a cultural centre in the border town of Suruc on Monday. But many believe Turkey’s decision to actively engage in the US-led fight against the armed group has as much to do with the battlefield in northern Syria.
The government here is concerned about ISIL threatening Syrian opposition groups in their strongholds in Aleppo.
But Ankara is also worried about what it perceives as the growing strength of Syria’s Kurds. The Kurdish YPG militia, which is linked to the PKK, now controls half of the 800km border with Turkey. Turkey said it would be a red line if Kurds created a state in northern Syria.
Officials even blamed US air strikes for helping the Kurds gain ground from ISIL.
“He requested that the issue not be escalated to that level because peace is the only way to solve problems and years of negotiations are better than one hour of war,” the statement said.
“Mr Barzani is ready to do anything within his means to assuage this tension and go back to a situation of peace.”
On Friday, the same day Turkey said it bombed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria for the first time, Turkish jets also struck positions in northern Iraq held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the group fighting against Turkey for more than three decades.
In a related development, Turkish police have been rounding up hundreds of suspected ISIL and Kurdish fighters in cities and towns across the country. As of Saturday, nearly 600 people had been detained.
Reuters news agency said Turkish police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse about 1,000 demonstrators who had gathered in the capital Ankara to protest against military strikes in Syria and northern Iraq.
For its part, the KRG parliament “strongly condemned” the Turkish air force’s cross-border operation.
“We demand an immediate end to it. This kind of development creates anger among Kurdistan’s people,” a statement said on Saturday.
The attacks could scuttle peace talks between the PKK and Turkey, which were started in 2012 but have stalled of late.
“The truce has no meaning any more after these intense air strikes by the occupant Turkish army,” the PKK said on its website.
Bahtiyar Dogan, a PKK spokesperson in Iraq, told AFP news agency that one fighter was killed and three wounded in the air strikes, which he said started late on Friday and lasted through much of Saturday.
“We are still committed to the directives of our leader [Abdullah] Ocalan … but it seems Erdogan wants to drag us back into war,” Dogan said.
“When things reach this level and when all of our areas are bombed, I think by then the ceasefire has no meaning any more,” he said, echoing the statement on the PKK website.
The Turkish government started peace talks in 2012 with the imprisoned Ocalan in an effort to defuse tensions with Kurds, who represent nearly 20 percent of Turkey’s population.
The government now accuses him of backtracking on promises.
The PKK has long had camps in the mountains of Iraq’s Kurdish region, near the border with Turkey.
The PKK and Iraq’s KRG leadership have often been at odds in the past, but both are involved in the fight against ISIL.
Turkey earlier this week approved the full use of its airbases by the US-led coalition against ISIL, according to the foreign ministry.
The announcement marked an apparent major change in its policy following a suicide bomb attack in Suruc, bordering Syria, which killed dozens of young Kurdish activists.
Turkish officials said on Saturday that areas in northern Syria cleared of fighters belonging to ISIL were to become safe zones, according to the deal reached between Turkey and the US.