The government of Turkey announced a bombing campaign on Sunday consisting of airstrikes on 20 alleged strategic positions within the borders of Iraq, a response to a suicide attack against the Turkish General Directorate of Security in Ankara this weekend.
The latest bombing campaign across Iraq follows nearly a decade of Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducting airstrikes in Iraq without consulting Baghdad, outraging Iraqi officials despite their mutual opposition to the PKK.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization, took responsibility for the bombing in Ankara through its “People’s Defense Forces,” (HPG), a militant wing. The PKK seeks the formation of an independent state for the Kurdish people, which are spread throughout Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The PKK maintains cordial relations with separatist Kurdish groups in Syria but has faced years of vocal rejection from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, which condemned the suicide attack on Sunday.
Turkish authorities said in a statement on Sunday that two terrorists planned to attack the General Directorate of Security. One detonated a suicide bomb, killing himself, and the other was “neutralized,” meaning either killed or captured. They were the only deaths occurring as a result of the attack. Authorities described two police officers as “slightly” injured and not in mortal danger as of Sunday evening.
“At around 09:30 [a.m. local time], two terrorists who came with a light commercial vehicle in front of the entrance gate of the general security directorate of our interior ministry, carried out a bomb attack,” Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on Sunday in a statement on Twitter, according to the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw. The Security Directorate is in the heart of the capital, near a variety of other government agency headquarters, including the nation’s parliament.
Turkish officials also stated that they had discovered several “suspicious” packages around the city and destroyed them using controlled explosions. The government has yet to offer confirmation that any of the packages were bombs.
Erdogan commented on the attack as well, taking credit for having allegedly “largely solved” terrorism in the country, but vowing, “we will not allow the terrorist group to direct politics or prevent the sacred march of our country.”
The HPG wing of the PKK confirmed its responsibility for the attack in a statement released following the Turkish government’s announcement that it had neutralized the attack, deeming the attempted suicide bombing “an act of legitimate defense.”
“This action is an act of legitimate defense against the disregard of human rights that are being trampled on against national and international laws”; the HPG claimed, “against the inhumane practice and policy of isolation that is being implemented in all the jails of Turkey and Kurdistan.”
The PKK and other, peaceful Kurdish groups have for years condemned Erdogan’s government for negligence and repression in Turkey’s Kurdish heartland, far east from many of the country’s largest cities. The PKK has largely responded to the claimed repression with bombings, shootings, and other attacks against Turkish police and military targets. Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish-population city in the country, has faced waves of curfews, restrictions on the freedom of assembly, and police brutality in response to PKK attacks. Diyarbakir also experienced some of the worst aftermath of the devastating series of earthquakes in eastern Turkey in February, damage in part blamed on Erdogan for offering real estate developers an “amnesty” on violating building codes for safety.
Al Jazeera noted on Sunday that the Ankara attack was the first attempted attack of its kind on the capital since March 2016, “when 37 people were killed after a bomb-laden car exploded at a crowded central transport hub.”
Erdogan’s government conducted airstrikes on 20 locations in Iraq alleged to be supply depots and other critical targets affiliated with the PKK within 24 hours of the Ankara attack. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the military bombed the Iraqi regions of Hakurk, Qandil, and Gara and “neutralized” PKK terrorists, without elaborating on the number or how many were killed. The Turkish Defense Ministry claimed the bombings were necessary to “eliminate terrorist attacks against our people and security forces from northern Iraq.”
The Kurdish outlet Kurdistan 24 reported that, in contrast to the claims from Ankara, the strikes hit several villages and local civilians expressed alarm that they could soon turn deadly.
“Villagers in the area said Turkish warplanes had bombed the surrounding villages five to six times. The extent of the damage is still unknown, but the villagers are concerned about repeated bombings,” a Kurdistan 24 reporter on the ground in Choman, a KRG city, said. Kurdistan 24 did not confirm any civilian casualties.
The Iraqi government responded with outrage at the violation of the country’s borders, which has occurred regularly since at least 2015. The office of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani issued a statement on Sunday asserting it “firmly rejected any aggression directed at Iraqi territory, emphasizing that such actions run counter to principles of good neighborliness and pose a threat to security and stability both within Iraq and in the wider region,” according to Rudaw.
Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid said in an interview on Saudi television on Monday that the airstrikes “are rejected by the Iraqi people, the (Kurdistan) region and all of Iraq’s inhabitants” and often kill civilians, despite Turkish assurances that the military avoids collateral damage. The interview was pre-recorded, however, and the Saudi broadcaster did not specify if it took place before this weekend’s airstrikes.
Turkey has actively been attacking Iraq since at least 2015, though it significantly escalated activities there, allegedly targeting the PKK, and in neighboring Syria since the fall of the Islamic State caliphate in 2017. In 2020, Erdogan launched two campaigns against the PKK branded “Operation Claw-Eagle” and “Operation Claw-Tiger” throughout much of Iraq and Syria. Local Christian populations that survived the genocide campaign by the Islamic State were forced to evacuate their villages as the Turkish government claimed them to be PKK strongholds, jeopardizing the future of those populations. Both the Iraqi government and that of the KRG condemned the campaigns.
“We reiterate our position that Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey should take their fight and rivalry outside the territory of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq,” the KRG’s Interior Ministry said in August 2020. “They should no longer make our people pay the price for this rivalry.”