The Iraqi government has demanded an apology from Turkey following an attack on an airport in the country’s northern Kurdish region. The attack took place on Friday in the vicinity of the Sulaimaniyah airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iraq’s presidency has blamed Turkey for the attack, calling it a “flagrant aggression” against its sovereignty in the area. Turkey has conducted several military operations, including air raids, in northern Iraq and northern Syria against Kurdish-led forces there. Ankara views the Kurdish-led forces as “terrorists” allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is backed by the United States, has condemned the attack. Its leader, Mazloum Abdi, was at the Sulaimaniyah airport at the time of the attack but “no harm was done”. Abdi condemned the attack, saying that at the time of the shelling, he was in a convoy that included troops from the US-led coalition and members of the Iraqi Kurdish anti-terrorism force.
A US official confirmed that there was an attack on a convoy in the area and US military personnel were in it, but said there were no casualties. About 900 US troops remain in Syria, most in the Kurdish-administered northeast, as part of a US-led coalition battling remnants of the ISIS, or ISIL armed group.
An informed source close to the leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party that controls the Sulaimaniyah area, and two Kurdish security officials also confirmed that Abdi and three US military personnel were near the airport. Al Jazeera’s Ameer Fendi reported that the attack “damaged a large part of the facility’s outer fence, but did not cause any casualties”.
The attack came days after Turkey closed its airspace to aircraft travelling to and from Sulaimaniyah due to what it said was intensified activity there by PKK fighters. The shelling has escalated tensions between the main parties in the Iraqi Kurdish government. A statement from the Iraqi Kurdish regional government appeared to blame the PUK for Friday’s events, accusing them of provoking an attack on the airport and using “government institutions” for “illegal activities”.
Ankara has close ties to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is the largest party in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and is dominant in the regional capital, Erbil. Its rival, the PUK, has closer ties to the PKK and is dominant in Sulaimaniyah. The presidency of the Iraqi Kurdish region has called on the two parties to stop exchanging accusations and to investigate the circumstances of this recent shelling. This tense atmosphere between the two sides of the Kurdish Regional Government comes at a time when the airspace in Turkey remains closed to flights coming from Sulaimaniyah airport, and at a time when many say the differences between both parties of the government should come to an end as people get ready for legislative elections scheduled for later this year.