Iraq: Turkish Airlines ends flights to Sulaymaniyah in protest of alleged PKK ties
Turkish Airlines suspended its flights to Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah airport in Kurdistan in April in response to alleged growing links between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), two Turkish sources familiar with the matter said. asked Middle East Eye. .
The sources used what appears to be an air corridor between Iraq and Syria allegedly carrying senior PKK fighters on the orders of PUK leader Bafel Talabani, was revealed after two helicopters came down in Iraq last month.
Talabani’s PUK is the second largest party in the semi-autonomous region and the dominant force in Sulaymaniyah.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militia led by PKK-linked groups, said last month that nine of its members had died in the crash of a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the helicopters belonged to his political rivals the PUK, which is believed to have ties to the PKK. However, Turkish sources alleged that the helicopters were rented through a local company by the US government and then given to the PUK.
Those sources told MEE last month that it was important that the KRG and Iraqi authorities disclose the alleged PUK link to the flights, and that they are responsible for it.
Dana Mohammed, Sulaymaniyah airport spokesperson, told a local media outlet that all Turkish Airlines flights between Sulaymaniyah and Turkey have been canceled for the month of April.
“We have not been given any explanation, but we have asked Turkey to clarify the reason for this decision by email,” she said.
‘The helicopters that carry the PKK are not the real issue. The issue is the general support of the Talabani tribe for the PKK’
– Turkish source
“The helicopters carrying the PKK are not the real issue,” one Turkish source told MEE. “The issue is the general support of the Talabani tribe for the PKK.”
The PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, has been in conflict with the Turkish state since the 1980s, involving violence that has killed thousands of people. Turkey, the United States and the EU have designated the PKK as a terrorist group because of its deadly attacks on civilians.
Talabani kept silent on the helicopter issues after Barzani’s accusations. He only released a message of condolence, where he praised the SDF forces for their campaign against the Islamic State group, saying they “defended the Kurdish holy land from terrorism, and left a legacy of supremacy”.
Bese Hozat, co-chairman of the supreme board that rules the PKK, praised Talabani last month for his efforts to unite Kurdish groups.
“A very strong position of national unity emerged everywhere,” she told ANF News, a pro-PKK publication. “Many political parties and Kurdish groups have issued meaningful messages about this issue. PUK chairman Talabani also had a very meaningful message.”
Hozat also criticized Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) for obstructing efforts to unify the Kurdish groups and said the KDP was working with the “genocidal” Turkish state. “We can achieve Kurdish national unity without them,” she said.
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Mustafa Caner, a research fellow at Sakarya University’s Middle East Institute, says the relationship between the Talabani family and the PKK has been the focus of intense scrutiny because of its importance.
“Although the nature of their relationship is erratic, it is generally acknowledged that the PUK and the Talabani are more closely aligned with the PKK, in contrast to the KDP and Barzani, who have had occasional clashes with the terrorist group,” he told MEE . .
“Furthermore, the ideological orientation of the PUK is more compatible with that of the PKK.”
Caner also said that a significant amount of evidence shows that PKK fighters use Sulaymaniyah as a base for logistical operations, as it is easily accessible from the PKK’s headquarters in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
“Turkish officials are confident that the PKK is closely related to the Talabani, and Sulaymaniyah is an area where the PKK can move around easily,” he said.
Turkey imposed a similar flight ban on Sulaymaniyah between 2017 and 2019, asking local authorities to crack down on PKK-linked entities.