The head of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, has said that the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the region is not legitimate.
“We do not find the PKK's presence in whole KRG as legitimate. The PKK should stay away from creating problems for the Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan region is not PKK's area of activity; has never been; and should not be. We are part of Iraq and the Kurdistan region, within this framework, will never accept another power to create problems for its neighbors,” Barzani was quoted as saying by Rudaw during a speech on April 20.
Barzani made the comments in response to a bombardment carried out by Turkish warplanes on a PKK shelter in Zini Warte area in northern Iraq last week. The PKK is considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.
The Turkish military's attack further complicated already strained relations between rival Peshmerga units affiliated with Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Zini Warte.
A unified Peshmerga unit was deployed in mid-March to establish a forward operating base in the Zini Warte area of Rawanduz district to target the smugglers who were breaking the government’s coronavirus lockdown measures.
The Peshmerga unit was composed of both KDP and PUK affiliates. Although it was under the command of a KDP officer, unified units are answerable to the KRG Ministry for Peshmerga Affairs – not party headquarters.
However, fearing the deployment was in fact a KDP land grab, the PUK deployed its own Peshmerga forces to secure the territory.
In early April they were joined by a PKK detachment, which also established a base nearby. However, this was quickly destroyed in a Turkish airstrike on April 15.
What followed was a game of chicken, as the rival forces called on one another to withdraw.
During the press conference on April 20, Barzani insisted the deployment of the KRG-affiliated Peshmerga to Zini Warte was only a “temporary” measure to protect the public from COVID-19.
Barzani, who is deputy leader of the KDP, said his party will soon hold talks with the PUK leadership to resolve the latest confrontation – which is rarely far from the surface.
“I want to assure you that it is not a big, unresolvable problem and we are approaching resolution of the issue,” Barzani told reporters.
Regarding the PKK’s call for the withdrawal of the KRG-affiliated force, Barzani said: “The PKK has neither any legitimacy in the Kurdistan region nor a base that will grant them such a legitimacy. If the PKK wants to help us, their biggest favor would be to leave Kurdistan region lands. The Kurdistan region is not the PKK's place of activity...Our stance as the Kurdistan region is definite; we want to be a factor of stability both with our neighbors and within ourselves.”
Asked by reporters whether the latest flare up in tensions between the KDP and PUK could result in a split into two administrations, Barzani replied: “In such a case there will not be two administrations, but none.”
Turkey routinely launches land and air operations against the PKK within its borders, in the KRG, as well territories disputed between the KRG and Iraq's central government, such as Shingal and Makhmour. It also regularly targets People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, accusing them of ties with the PKK.
On April 15, Turkish warplanes also targeted a refugee camp in Makhmour, which is a host to some 12,000 Kurdish refugees, Rudaw said. The camp is known to be administrated by affiliates of the PKK.
Asked about the bombardment of the camp, Barzani said: “Turkey's attack occurred after the PKK placed its forces in the area. We have previously notified the PKK that this area needs to be evacuated. We have said that if it was not evacuated, we could not protect them.”
“Turkey has the technological means to determine the areas where the PKK is located...What kind of sovereignty are they talking about? Is the PKK respecting the Kurdistan region's and Iraq's sovereignty? Are they using legitimate means to place themselves in areas where they are allocated? Absolutely not. And if they do so, I guess we are to expect from Turkey to show their reaction,” Barzani said.