WED 19 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jun 5, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Turkey says troops closing in on PKK stronghold in northern Iraq
Agence France Presse
ISTANBUL: Turkish troops are advancing on the mountainous Qandil region of northern Iraq where the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is based, a senior minister said Monday, as military operations are stepped up.

Several Turkish troops have been killed in the region in recent months during clashes with the PKK, although the authorities remain vague over where the fighting is taking place.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the state-run Anadolu news agency the target was the Qandil mountains, the PKK’s key military base. “Qandil is not a distant target for us,” Soylu said.

“Right now several areas were taken under control, especially in the northern Iraqi region,” he added.

Outlawed by Ankara and its Western allies, the PKK has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, and the army is battling the group’s militants both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq.

“We are now 26-27 kilometers away. There are naturally clashes breaking out because it is a terrain we don’t know. There are homemade explosive devices,” Soylu said.

Turkish warplanes often bomb PKK hideouts in northern Iraq while the security forces sporadically launch cross-border incursions in pursuit of rebel fighters.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed Sunday in an attack by the PKK in Iraq’s southeastern Hakkari province, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened a major cross-border operation to dislodge the group from its strongholds.

“To us, it is a question of timing now. It is not a question of operation,” Soylu said. “Qandil will become a safe area for Turkey. Nobody should doubt it.”

It is in this area that the PKK’s military leadership such as Murat Karayilan and Cemil Bayik are believed to be based.

Top PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is serving a life sentence on a prison island off Istanbul following his capture in 1999.

The northern Iraq operations come as Turkey prepares for June 24 parliamentary and presidential polls.

Erdogan Sunday sought to persuade voters in the heartland of Turkey’s Kurdish minority to vote for him, arguing his party had done the most to rebuild the area and find peace after years of violence.

Erdogan told a mass rally attended by thousands in the Kurdish-majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir that the area was enjoying “peace like never in the last 40 years” and that the “state had never been so close to the people.”

Turkey’s Kurds, estimated to make up at least one fifth of the population, will be crucial in determining the outcome of the parliamentary and presidential polls.

While large numbers are expected to vote for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which is focused on Kurdish interests, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been able to count on solid support from religiously conservative Kurds.

Erdogan launched a lacerating attack on the HDP, saying “we (the AKP) build but they destroy.”

The AK Party accuses the HDP of being the political front of the PKK and being complicit in militant violence, charges the party denies.

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