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Barzani asks PKK to quit Iraqi Kurdish enclave

AFP / SAFIN HAMED | Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani at a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Hadier al-Abadi in northern Iraq, on April 6, 2015

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 air strikes 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 to ensure the civilians of Kurdistan don't become victims of that fighting and conflict."

The statement also condemned Turkey for bombing civilians, following reports that civilian homes were damaged in air strikes 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 not to repeat the bombing of civilians," the statement added, and called upon both sides to resume a Kurdish peace process.

The statement also called on PKK rebels to move out of the region to prevent civilian casualties. "The PKK must keep the battlefield away from the Kurdistan region in order for civilians not to become victims of this war," it said.

Kifah Mahmud, a Barzani adviser, told the AFP that "if the PKK did not have bases inside the region, Turkey would not be bombing civilians."

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 US State Department and the Turkish government regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation because of its history of violence in Turkey.

Striking targets in northern Iraq

Turkey launched air strikes 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 air strikes began as the US 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.

The heaviest air strikes were on Thursday, when 80 Turkish aircraft hit 100 targets of the PKK, according to Turkish news agency Anatolia.

Without citing its sources, Anatolia said that among those wounded was Nurettin Demirtas, the brother of the leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.

The charismatic young Demirtas led the HDP to a historic electoral victory in June, which saw the pro-Kurdish party cross the 10 percent vote threshold to enter parliament for the first time. Demirtas is widely viewed as the biggest political threat to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of likely early elections following the ruling AKP party’s inability to form a coalition government. The Turkish president frequently accuses the HDP of supporting the PKK, an accusation the party denies.

Demirtas openly acknowledges that his elder brother Nurettin was in northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, where the PKK's military headquarters are based. But he told reporters he could not confirm the Anatolia report as Nurettin was no longer in the Qandil Mountains as he is "resisting IS [the Islamic State group] on behalf of the people," said Demirtas, without giving further details.

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.

Iraq condemns 'dangerous escalation'

Anatolia 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 air strikes "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 US-led coalition. The YPG has called on the US-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."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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