Iraq-Syria: Helicopter crash might have revealed a secret PKK air route
Two civilian helicopters that crashed last week in the Duhok region of Iraqi Kurdistan may have exposed a secret air corridor to transport senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) between Iraq and Syria, sources have said of Turkey for the Middle East Eye.
Kurdistan Regional Government officials said the choppers that went down on Wednesday were carrying PKK members, but did not elaborate on the details of the flights.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which led PKK-linked groups, said last week that nine of its members had died in the crash of a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter.
The sources added that such flights could only happen if the US government has knowledge since the US forces control the territory of Syria and Iraq.
The anti-Islamic State, which is backed by the SDF coalition, said it was moving its counter-terrorism units to the Kurdistan region of Iraq to increase its combat and security capabilities to better fight the Islamic State in Syria.
“While the two helicopters carrying our group of fighters were on their way to the city of al-Sulaymaniyah on the evening of March 15, 2023, they crashed due to bad weather, leaving nine of our fighters martyred, with their includes the head of the European Union. forces of Shervan Kobani,” the statement said.
The statement did not indicate who owned the helicopters or how they were able to use them, as neither the PKK nor the SDF have any aircraft.
Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the helicopters belonged to his political rivals Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has closer ties to the PKK. However, Turkish sources alleged that the helicopters, four units in total, were rented through a local company by the US government and then given to the PUK.
Kurdistan officials refused to respond to MEE’s inquiry into these allegations, saying that investigations into the accident were still ongoing.
US role suspected
Tensions have been high recently between the ruling parties of the KRG over the parliamentary elections and oil revenues. PUK officials – including Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani are boycotting the KRG’s weekly meetings.
Turkish sources said that while the Turkish government was able to track the movements of the two aircraft in Iraqi airspace, they did not have the passenger data. The sources added that such flights could only happen if the US government has knowledge since the US forces control the territory of Syria and Iraq. “These flights have been going on for the last two years but they were not registered,” said one of the sources.
“Unregistered flights fuel speculation that PKK terrorists were illegally transported between Iraqi and Syrian territories with US-Iraqi coordination.”
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The helicopter’s air route also raised eyebrows in Ankara, as they used an irregular flight plan to reach Sulaymaniyah from SDF-controlled Hasakah, possibly to avoid Turkish radar and detection for covert meetings. Al Monitor reported that the helicopters were flying at an unusually low altitude, which may have caused a secret pit stop on the way to the destination such as Gara which is closer to the PKK headquarters in Qandil.
Security Council of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq said the helicopters were flying between Sulaymaniyah and northeastern Syria without notifying the formal security establishments of the Kurdistan Region.
Turkish sources said the KRG and Iraqi authorities must disclose the alleged PUK link to the flights as their state responsibility.
The sources told him that PUK has been increasing its relationship with YPG in recent years, and that they are in frequent contact with each other. The sources alleged that PUK leader Bafel Talabani met with YPG officers of the Syrian PKK armed wing in Sulaymaniyah several times thanks to arrangements made by the US.
Talabani has so far remained silent on Barzani’s allegations of ownership of the helicopter. Talabani only released a message of condolence, where he praised the anti-terrorist forces of the SDF for their campaign against IS, who “protected the Kurdish holy land from terrorism, and left a legacy of supremacy”.