Drone strikes highlight perils of Turkey-PKK war for Iraqi Kurdistan

Increasingly frequent attacks deep inside KRG territory pose danger for civilians and underscore challenges for diplomacy.
Residents of Sulaimaniya protest against a drone attack that hit the vicinity of the Sulaimaniya airport in April 2023. (AKO RASHEED/Reuters)

CHAMCHAMAL/SULAIMANIYA - Drone strikes have hit targets associated with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) deep inside Iraqi Kurdistan several times in recent days, highlighting the ongoing security and diplomatic challenges — and danger to civilians — posed by the PKK’s long-standing conflict with Turkey.

Turkey has not confirmed responsibility for specific incidents, but its Defense Ministry said in a statement on Aug. 11 that its operations in both Iraq and Syria "continue to bury PKK [...] terrorists in trenches wherever they are," claiming that 19 militants had been killed on Aug. 10 and 11 alone. The statement was accompanied by a video montage of air strikes.

Iraq has long been a battleground in Turkey's war against the PKK — considered a terrorist group by the U.S., EU, and Turkey — which uses guerrilla warfare to pursue political autonomy for Kurds in Turkey. As the Turkish military has increased its use of drones, it has broadened its theater of operations in Iraq in the past two years, now regularly targeting not just the remote Qandil mountains, where the PKK has been based for decades, but also major transportation routes and civilian areas.

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