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Mattis: PKK has killed innocent Turks

By Rudaw 28/3/2018
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Mattis: PKK has killed innocent Turks
US soldiers accompany a US delegation including the commander of all US Special Forces to the YPG-held city of Manbij, where the US has a military presence, on March 22, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it clear where the Defense Department stands with regards to the PKK, whether in Turkey, Syria, or Iraq.


"The PKK, as you know, is a designated terrorist organization by the United States. They have killed innocent Turks," Mattis said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is based in Qandil in the northern borders of the Kurdistan Region. It has waged a nearly 40-year struggle, sometimes armed, against the Turkish state for greater political, cultural, and minority rights. It and its offshoots have also operated in Iran, Iraq, and Syria.


The PKK provided timely security for the Yezidis in Shingal during the ISIS conflict, even earning paychecks from Baghdad.

"There a threat against the PKK elements up in the Sinjar area. Now, this is across the border [from Syria], up in way north, north Iraq," acknowledged Mattis.

This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the country should not harbor foreign fighters. He also said the PKK has left Shingal, and local PKK-affiliated groups are to be absorbed into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

 

A large convoy of Iraqi Army forces arrived in Shingal on Tuesday in a bid to replace the withdrawing PKK.

 

On Wednesday morning, the Shingal division of the Peshmerga and Ezidkhan Protection Units, composed of local Yezidis, began a standoff with the Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries over their insistence on entering a Yezidi holy shrine. 

The Yezidi forces blocked the Iraqi Army and Hashd forces, which are trying to enter the shrine under the pretext of protecting it. The shrine is considered the second most holy Yezidi site. 


Turkey considers the People's Protection Units (YPG) to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which both groups deny. The YPG formed the backbone of the US-led international coalition's ground partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), liberating "nearly 100 percent" of the lands ISIS once controlled in Syria.


"But bottom line is, right now, we have open dialogue with the Turkish government right now.  We're working it and we're working it forward. We're not stuck on anything right now. And, so far, as you've noticed, there's been no move on Manbij," said Mattis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the United States reneged on an agreement to remove YPG elements from Manbij. He has also threatened to go to Manbij, where the US military has a visible presence, after Turkey finishes its assault on the Kurdish canton of Afrin.

"In the Afrin area, the Turkish forces are consolidating. There have been reports of looting in the town by some of the elements that came in to Afrin, in Afrin city itself, and a lot of people made refuge there. There has been no move against Manbij, and we continue our dialogue with the Turkish authorities about how do we sort this out," said Mattis.

The US State Department, currently in a transition period until current CIA head Mike Pompeo is confirmed by the senate and without a permanent ambassador in Turkey, sent Ambassador Tina Kaidanow to the Middle East on Wednesday.

Kaidanow is the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs and will visit Ankara and Baghdad for a week.

Erdogan will host a summit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 3-4.

Kaidanow will discuss bilateral defense trade and security cooperation, according to the office of the State Department spokesperson.

"She will meet with representatives from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defense, and the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries to share US perspectives on bilateral and regional security issues as part of the US-Turkey Defense Trade Dialogue, and will hold a roundtable discussion with representatives from major US and Turkish defense manufacturers," read the statement.

In Baghdad, Kaidanow will meet with Iraqi officials to discuss regional security issues and US security assistance programs.

"These programs reflect our continued commitment to helping Iraq improve its security, maintain its sovereignty, and continue the fight against remaining ISIS terrorists, while supporting the long-term development of modern, accountable, and professional Iraqi security forces capable of defending Iraq and its borders," added the statement.

The US, by supporting the ISF, including the Peshmerga in the Kurdistan Region, and the SDF in Syria, have effective control of most of the Iraq-Syria border, in addition to support from their Jordanian partners in the south.


In both countries, the US has announced training programs for border units. PKK fighters have long had a presence on the Iraq-Turkey, and Turkey-Syria borders. 


Since the breakdown of a two-and-a-half year ceasefire in Turkey in July 2015, at least 3,386 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and the PKK, according to data from the International Crisis Group last compiled on March 16. Of those, ICG has confirmed 438 civilians were killed and 219 youth (age 16-35), who cannot be positively identified as civilians or PKK youth militias, have been killed in curfew zones.
"And we are intending to see them pull out of the Sinjar area...  But that's ongoing right now," added Mattis.
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