Iraq launches investigation over airstrike on Sulaymaniyah aiport as Kurdish parties trade accusations

Iraq launches investigation over airstrike on Sulaymaniyah aiport as Kurdish parties trade accusations
3 min read
11 April, 2023
Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) survived an assassination attempt at Sulaimaniyah airport in northern Iraq on Friday.
Sulaymaniyah International Airport. [Getty]

Two main Kurdish ruling parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan region threw accusations at each other, with each claiming the other was providing information to Turkey to target Mazloum Abdi, a Kurdish commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who survived a drone attack in the vicinity of Sulaymaniyah International Airport on Friday.

The attack came a few days after Turkey closed its airspace to aeroplanes travelling to and from Sulaymaniyah due to what it said was intensified activity by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

 A source close to one of the Kurdish ruling parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The New Arab that "Turkey deliberately did not want to kill Abdi as he was accompanied by some American personnel at Sulaimaniyah airport." 

Three US military personnel were in the convoy with Abdi at the time of the attack, and there were no casualties, the US officials told the Wall Street Journal.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a coalition among the two main ruling and rival parties;  the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Movement of Change, a smaller ruling party, is also part of the KRG. The KDP, led by the Barzani family dominate Erbil and Duhok provinces, while the PUK, led by the Talabani family, rules Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces.

Both parties have their separate peshmerga forces, security and intelligence agencies.

After the attack, Jotiar Adil, the KRG spokesperson from KDP in a statement said the incident is the result of the "PUK manipulating government institutions for illegal activities."

 Qubad Talabani, the KRG deputy prime minister and brother of PUK president Bafel Talabani, in turn, denounced Adil's statements, indicating that "in no way can he speak for the whole government, rather he is only the spokesman of the KDP."

"Targeting a civilian airport is not only breaching Iraq's sovereignty, but it is also a dangerous escalation on the lives of the people of Kurdistan," Talabani added.

Iraqi National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji, heading a senior security delegation arrived at Sulaymaniyah airport on Saturday to investigate the drone attack. 

"The Iraqi delegation concluded that without cooperation from Kurdish intelligence agencies, it was impossible for Turkey to detect the place of Abdi," the source noted. "Intelligence agencies affiliated to the KDP are more suspected to have given information to Turkey as the party has good relations with Ankara and they previously cooperated in fighting against the PKK guerrillas in Qandil."

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However, Ari Harsin, a member of the KDP's Leadership Council in Sulaimaniyah denied during a phone call with TNA that his party was involved in the attack. 

"The PUK illegitimately accuses the KRG of giving information to Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) on the whereabouts of Mazlum Abdi, we refute all those allegations," Harsin asserted. "Al-Monitor has recently reported that PUK’s Counter Terrorism Group (CTG) has given information to Turkey, that is not my speech, the website says that."

The SDF initially denied that Abdi had been targeted, calling the news "baseless". Yet, SDF spokesperson Farhad Shami later said Abdi was "present" at the airport when the attack took place.

Iraq called on Turkey on Saturday to apologise for what it said was the shelling of Sulaymaniyah airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid said on Saturday that Turkey has no legal justification to "continue its approach of intimidating civilians under the pretext that forces hostile to it are present on Iraqi soil."

The Iraqi presidency also called on Turkey to apologise for the strike, warning, "Otherwise, more strict measures will be taken against Turkey."