Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at his weekly press conference on April 10, 2018. Photo: PM Abadi's media office
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on PKK fighters to lay down their arms, saying the Iraqi constitution does not allow any group to threaten the security of neighbouring countries.
He also denied that Turkish forces have made an incursion into Iraqi territory, calling such reports "completely false."
Commenting on the withdrawal of PKK fighters from the Yezidi area of Shingal Abadi confirmed that the Kurdish fighters have left the area.
Iraqi laws stipulate that no Iraqi group can have an armed force outside of Iraqi military institutions, the premier said, let alone a non-Iraqi armed group.
The PKK has been in Iraq for decades, Abadi noted. "If they are refugees in Iraq, then there is no problem since it is humanitarian," he said, "but we do not allow them to have arms in Iraq."
Turkey has repeatedly threatened an attack on the PKK stationed in the Kurdistan Region if the Iraqi government refuses to take action against the group that is designated a terror organization in Turkey, the US, and the EU.
The Turkish military has advanced into dozens of Kurdish border villages in recent weeks, with local authorities saying they have violated Kurdistan Region territory by 20 kilometers
The Iraqi military has followed up on such reports, Abadi said, and concluded they are "completely false."
"Not only it is not true that they have crossed the border, but also that there is not even any military mobilization," Abadi said.
The same way Baghdad does not allow armed groups like the PKK to threaten Ankara, the Iraqi government also demands the Turkish side respect the sovereignty of Iraq, Abadi said.
Iraq respects the rights of Iraqi citizens who adhere to PKK ideology, he said, explaining that this should not mean people are allowed to raise the PKK flag or carry arms.
"Iraq does not have any interest in endangering its relations with Turkey," PM Abadi said.
The past agreement between the former Iraqi regime and Turkey that had permitted the deployment of Turkish security forces into the border areas is no longer "valid," Abadi explained.
Regarding the security threat posed by ISIS militants on the Iraq-Syria border, he said that he warned US President Donald Trump in their recent call
that the Americans should not leave the job of defeating ISIS "unaccomplished."
Iraq announced the total defeat of ISIS in its territories last December, but the extremist group has recently increased hit-and-run attacks in the disputed areas in the north of the country.
Abadi, however, said that the ISIS threat is in eastern Syria, areas controlled by the US-backed mainly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The war on ISIS in the neighbouring country has been affected by "regional and international rivalries," Abadi said.
Turkey took control of the then SDF-held Kurdish canton of Afrin, northwestern Syria, after a two-month deadly military campaign on March 18. The US-led Coalition has said that Turkey’s campaign negatively affected the war against ISIS in the east of Syria after Kurdish forces redeployed from the frontlines against ISIS to defend Afrin.
Abadi said he told President Trump that if they leave the weakened and downsized ISIS remnants undefeated in Syria, they will come back an even "stronger virus" that will threaten not only Iraq, but also the region and the entire world.
"I am prepared to take all necessary measures if the security of Iraq is threatened," Abadi declared about taking action against ISIS inside Syria’s borders.
The Iraqi air force attacked ISIS positions inside Syria in February last year. Iraqi security forces also shared intelligence that led to Syrian airstrikes
against the extremist group on the border in April that year.
PM Abadi said that Iraq is very specific when it comes to which groups it wants to target in Syria. "By armed groups, we mean only ISIS," he said.
Last week, a Kurdish official from the authority of Syrian Kurdistan, or Rojava, said that Iraqi and SDF forces
may work together against ISIS on their shared borders.