Syrian Kurds mourn in the northern town of Afrin during the funeral on February 1, 2018 of fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Women's Protection Units (YPJ), killed in clashes in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria on the border with Turkey. Photo: AFP/Delil Souleiman
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi government rejects Turkish military "intervention" in the Kurdish canton of Afrin, but refuses to cut ties with its northern neighbour in light of the Turkish operation that began on January 20 despite the objection of the Syrian government, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said.
"We reject any foreign nation from intervening in the affairs of another country," Jaafari said on Saturday when asked about the stance of the Iraqi government by a Syrian news channel.
He explained that Iraq rejects the Turkish "violation," against Syria, just as it rejects the Turkish military presence in Bashiqa, a city in Iraq about 20 kilometers northeast of Mosul; although, countries should not cut their diplomatic relations altogether because of disagreements over some issues.
The deployment of Turkish troops and heavy weapons to Bashiqa in December 2015 sparked a diplomatic crisis between Baghdad and Ankara that was reignited in October 2016 after Iraqi MPs urged their government to brand the Turkish presence as an occupation.
The relations between Iraq and Turkey have since improved with Baghdad saying that Ankara has agreed to withdraw its troops once the ISIS war is over.
The Iraqi government announced the military defeat of the extremist group in December.
Turkey launched a deadly military operation against the Kurdish-controlled Afrin canton in northwestern Syria on January 20.
The Syrian government has condemned the military operation describing it as violating the sovereignty of the country under the international laws. Days before the launch of Turkey's Operation Olive Branch, Damascus stated they are fully prepared to shoot down Turkish fighter jets in the Syrian airspace, but ever since there has not been any reported military engagement between the two sides.
The Afrin assault has already claimed the lives of at least 68 civilians including 21 children and 12 women since January 20, according to the conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Health officials in Afrin have reported at least 127 civilian deaths, and another 168 injured as of Friday.
Turkey claims seven civilians have been killed in cross-border fire originating from the Kurdish-controlled Afrin since the start of the war.
Both Turkey and the Kurdish YPG forces, which are in control of Afrin city, deny they target civilians. The latter also deny cross-border activities.
Ankara on Saturday confirmed the death of seven Turkish soldiers including five killed in an attack on a Turkish tank, bringing the total to 14.
The Observatory on Sunday put the Turkish fatalities as high as 19, while that of their Syrian proxies at 115, adding that intensive fighting between the two sides are taking place including in Bulbul district, north of Afrin city, where the Turkish tank is said to have been destroyed by the YPG's all-female counterpart YPJ.
The Kurdish forces are yet to publish a death toll, but according to the conflict monitor, the People's Protection Units (YPG) and their allied Civil Defence Force have lost at least 106 fighters.
According to UN figures, 323,000 people are living in Afrin and nearby areas under Kurdish control. Of them, 192,000 are in need of humanitarian aid and 125,000 are IDPs.
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