At least six Turkish soldiers have been killed in clashes with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq, Turkey’s defence ministry has said.
The fighting took place on Wednesday and in the early hours of Thursday in Zap, a region where Turkey has been carrying out a cross-border operation called “Claw-Lock” since April 2022.
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Turkish air attacks on PKK positions followed, leaving four PKK fighters dead, according to the ministry.
Ankara says the offensive is a measure to prevent the PKK from using Iraq as a base to carry out attacks in Turkey.
The PKK has large fortifications around the region, where “the terrain is very tough”, but the region will be “cleared up from terrorists” despite attacks, a defence ministry official said.
“Our soldiers will not leave the blood of the martyrs on the ground,” Turkish Colonel Zeki Akturk said at a news conference on Thursday, adding that Turkish forces “will continue their fight against terrorism with the same determination until there is not a single terrorist left”.
The PKK, which has bases around northern Iraq, is designated a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkey in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
Turkey has also targeted members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Iraq. The SDF is largely made up of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers the Syrian branch of the PKK.
Turkey has several bases across northern Iraq, despite opposition from the central Iraqi government, which has frequently condemned the military presence and described it as illegal.
However, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which administers the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, has not publically condemned the Turkish presence, and the Claw-Lock operation began only two days after a visit by the KRG’s prime minister, Masrour Barzani, to Turkey.
At the time, Barzani said that he welcomed “expanding cooperation to promote security and stability” in northern Iraq.
Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has promoted close economic ties with Turkey, has an uneasy relationship with the PKK.