BAGHDAD: The Iraqi president on Saturday condemned Turkey for bombarding an airport in the autonomous Kurdish region, while the commander of the Kurdish-led and US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces was present. US forces were also present during the incident in Sulaimaniyah, the SDF said, and the Pentagon in Washington confirmed that “a convoy including US military personnel” was struck. “Turkish military operations against the Kurdistan region continue to take place, the last being the bombardment (Friday) against Sulaimaniyah civilian airport,” Iraqi President Abdel Latif Rashid said in a statement.
The bombardment caused an explosion near the airport wall and led to a small fire which was quickly brought under control, a statement from airport security said at the time. A source at the Turkish defense ministry denied any involvement by the country’s armed forces. US Department of Defense spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Ventura told AFP that an investigation is underway and, “Fortunately, there were no casualties.” The SDF had previously denied that their commander Mazloum Abdi was in the airport when the strike occurred, but on Saturday clarified that the denial was for “security” reasons.
SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said in a statement that their media center “deliberately contained” the information about Abdi’s whereabout “until he safely arrived” in Kurdish-administered northeast Syria. The SDF commander had been in Sulaimaniyah to coordinate with local Kurdish anti-terrorist forces in the fight against the Islamic State group, with the knowledge of the US-led coalition fighting it, Shami told AFP. “We confirm the presence of US forces at the airport during the attack,” he added, without specifying the reason for their presence or whether they were accompanied by Abdi.
The US backs the SDF, the de facto army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in north and northeast Syria, and led the battle that dislodged IS from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019. Earlier on Saturday, Abdi denounced the bombardment, saying it was a sign of Turkish irritation at the support given to the SDF by the province’s dominant faction, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Turkey regards the SDF and its main component, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has a presence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and is listed as a “terrorist” organization by Ankara and its allies.
Around 900 US troops remain in Syria, most in the Kurdish-administered northeast, as part of a US-led coalition battling remnants of IS. ‘Terrorize civilians’ Rashid, himself a Kurd from Sulaimaniyah, said such actions by Turkish forces have “no legal justification” and serve only to “terrorize civilians under the pretext that hostile forces are present in Iraq”. He was referring to the PKK which has waged an insurgency in Turkey that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. Turkey has previously carried out incursions into Syria against Kurdish fighters. In Iraq, Turkey has repeatedly targeted the PKK in military strikes.
On Monday, Ankara halted flights to and from Sulaimaniyah until at least July 3, blaming increased PKK activity in and around the airport. The Turkish foreign ministry said at the time that PKK activities were posing a “threat” to air security. In early March, a Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq killed two Yazidi fighters affiliated with the PKK, days after a similar strike killed three other fighters. – AFP