ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – PUK Leader Bafel Talabani said Wednesday that his party’s problems with Turkey are hard to resolve and that he refuses to visit the country, attributing the issue to a Turkish drone strike that targeted PUK forces in Sulaimani nearly a month ago.
“Our problem with Turkey is hard to resolve. I seriously will not go to Turkey. Turkey martyred three heroes in the fight against Daesh [Islamic State] in Arbat,” Talabani said at a regional forum in Erbil, criticizing Ankara for a drone strike on Arbat airport that killed three members of the Sulaimani-based Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG).
While not claiming direct responsibility for the strike, Turkey said that members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a force that Ankara alleges to be the Syrian front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), were present at the airport during the time of the attack.
The PKK is a Kurdish group that has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for decades in the fight for greater Kurdish rights. It is designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, who frequently targets the group and its alleged offshoots in cross-border assaults in the Kurdistan Region and Syria.
Talabani labeled the strike as a “terrorist attack” and “a part of the conspiracy aimed at disturbing the peace and stability of the Kurdistan Region,” while the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani called on the Iraqi federal government to scale up efforts to prevent the repetition of such “violations”.
“There are institutions in Sulaimani that they [Turkey] say are PKK, but I do not know that … I have no right to go and shut down these [parties],” Talabani said about Ankara’s pressure campaign on the PUK to close PKK-linked parties in Sulaimani.
Explaining his remarks, he said that the parties are officially registered as political parties in Baghdad and that the PUK has no authority to comply with Turkey’s demands for their closure, suggesting Ankara to take up the issue with Baghdad instead.
“There are some things that they [Turkey] ask that we cannot implement,” he said.
“We do not want to have problems with any country, but we will not conduct dialogue with pressure, threats, and drones. This is not how to engage in dialogue,” he added.
Turkey has repeatedly warned PUK leaders about the PKK’s activities, with Defense Minister Yasar Guler saying late last month that his country is “continuously warning” Talabani about what he called “an increase in terrorist activities” in Sulaimani.
The strike drew a strong condemnation from Baghdad, who said they intended to summon the Turkish ambassador to Iraq, while Turkey blasted the PUK and claimed that the alleged presence of YPG members at the airport indicated strong cooperation between the Sulaimani-based party and the PKK.
The CTG and the YPG have not denied security cooperation, openly stating that their cooperation is related to the fight against ISIS.
Turkey has intensified its attacks against alleged PKK positions in the Kurdistan Region, especially in Sulaimani province. Some drone strikes have caused civilian deaths.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Iraq and the Kurdistan Region late last month. He met with Qubad Talabani, discussing a range of topics, including a Turkish flight ban on Sulaimani province due to the alleged “intensification” of the PKK activity in Sulaimani.
The flight ban on Sulaimani International Airport by Turkey has been in place since April 3. It will remain in effect until January.
Fidan called on Baghdad and Erbil to recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization but seemingly did not receive a positive response.
His ministry said in a later statement that Ankara expects both the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to designate the PKK and its affiliates as terrorist organizations.
Last week, a Turkish drone strike targeted the vicinity of two villages in Sulaimani province’s Mawat without causing any casualties.
The strike came as a part of wider bombardment campaign against alleged PKK positions in the Kurdistan Region in retaliation to an attack outside the Turkish interior ministry building in Ankara, which the PKK claimed responsibility for.
The KRG condemned the Ankara explosion, labeling it as a “terrorist” attack.
Source : RUDAW