Erdogan vows to ‘finish’ Kurdish militants in Iraq to avenge dead soldiers


ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to “finish” Kurdish militants in Iraq’s Sinjar and Qandil regions to avenge eight Turkish soldiers killed in a bomb attack in southeastern Turkey earlier this week.

On Wednesday, eight Turkish soldiers were killed and two were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Speaking to members of his ruling AK Party at the start of a two-day summit in the outskirts of Ankara, Erdogan said the PKK would pay the price for the eight soldiers.

“Do we have eight martyrs? Then let those terrorists know that they will pay the price for this with at least 800,” he said. “We will finish them by going into their dens, their holes. We will end them in Sinjar and in Qandil.”

The comments marked Erdogan’s strongest warning of a potential offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq in recent weeks.

Turkey has in recent months carried out strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq, especially its stronghold in the Qandil mountains, but warnings of a ground offensive into the area had largely died down following the June elections.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, has waged an insurgency against the state since Turkish the 1980s.

Violence in the largely Kurdish southeast has worsened since the collapse of a ceasefire in 2015 and the government has carried out widespread operations to capture the militants in Turkey as well.

Over the past two days, Turkish authorities have detained 137 people over suspected links to the PKK in operations across the nation, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

The PKK had a presence on Mount Shingal, where they had helped to rescue thousands of Yezidis fleeing ISIS and built up a local force for the region, the YBS. The PKK announced in March it had withdrawn its forces from Shingal, but officials in Ankara allege the group maintains a presence in the Yezidi heartland.

Turkey routinely launches airstrikes against alleged PKK positions in the Kurdistan Region mountains and conducted a ground operation at the start of this year.

In August, a Turkish airstrike that killed a local PKK commander in Shingal drew condemnation from Iraq. The strike hit a convoy departing an event commemorating the Yezidi genocide.

At least 4,134 people have been killed since July 2015 in the renewed conflict between Turkish forces and the PKK, according to the International Crisis Group that tracks deaths on both sides and among civilians.