Iraqi Kurds ask Kurdistan Workers Party to 'withdraw'

AP News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2015 2:30 PM

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Kurdish regional government called on the Kurdistan Worker's Party to "withdraw" from Iraq's Kurdish territory Saturday to prevent civilian deaths amid a campaign of Turkish airstrikes targeting the group.

A statement from the office of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, "should withdraw its fighters from the Kurdish region so to ensure the civilians of Kurdistan don't become victim of that fighting and conflict."

The statement also condemned Turkey for bombing civilians, following reports that civilian homes were damaged in airstrikes in northwestern Iraq. The statement calls on both sides to resume peace talks.

"We condemn the bombing, which led to the martyrdom of the citizens of the Kurdish region, and we call on Turkey to not to repeat the bombing of civilians," it said.

Sedar Sitar, an Iraq-based PKK activist, told The Associated Press that Turkish strikes destroyed at least six homes in the town of Zargel early Saturday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 12. Turkey said Saturday it had launched an investigation into the reported civilian deaths. A Foreign Ministry statement insisted however that targets were attacked only after the military was fully satisfied that the areas were free of civilians. It also said the PKK at times uses civilians as human shields.

Turkey launched airstrikes on Kurdish rebel camps in northern Iraq last week, its first such strikes since a peace process with the PKK was launched in 2012. The airstrikes began as the U.S. and Turkey announced the outlines of a deal to help push the Islamic State group back from a strip of territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border, replacing it with more-moderate rebels backed by Washington and Ankara.

On Friday, the Kurdish regional government accused the PKK of attacking an oil pipeline in northern Iraq. The Kurdish government had been selling oil directly to Turkey in a move that sparked tensions between the regional government in Irbil and the federal government in Baghdad. Those sales were stopped as part of a deal with Baghdad earlier this year, though the Kurdish government has threatened to resume sales to the international market in recent weeks.

Tensions between Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party and the PKK of Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey date back decades. The two groups were opponents in a 1990s civil war, which ended in an accord that allowed PKK fighters to remain in Iraqi Kurdish territory. The U.S. State Department and the Turkish government regard the PKK as a terrorist organization because of its history of violence in Turkey.

In recent months, the PKK joined an uneasy alliance with Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, and the main Syrian Kurdish militia against the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and Syria.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said Saturday that as many as 28 F-16 jets raided 65 PKK targets in northern Iraq, including shelters and ammunition depots on Friday. A day earlier, as many as 80 jets hit more than 100 targets, the agency said.

Anadolu claimed some 260 PKK rebels were killed and 400 were wounded since the start of the raids. The PKK has not reported on its casualties.

A statement Wednesday by the Iraqi Council of Ministers called the Turkish airstrikes "a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq's sovereignty." The statement also stressed the council's "commitment not to allow any attack on Turkey from Iraqi territory."

In Syria, meanwhile, the Kurdish militia there said the Turkish military has targeted them four times since July 24, calling such attacks "provocative."

The main Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG, has been spearheading battles against the Islamic State group, with air support from the U.S.-led coalition. The YPG has called on the U.S.-led coalition to clarify their stance regarding the Turkish strikes.

The YPG said that despite the fact that it has nothing to do with Turkey's fight against the PKK, "the Turkish military monitors and targets our units." It said the Turkish acts "will have negative consequences if they continue, and Turkey's government will be held accountable for the results."

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Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.