Two Iraqi troops killed in rare clashes with PKK: army

The PKK have bases in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains. (AFP/File)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Two Iraqi troops killed in rare clashes with PKK: army

  • The Kurdistan Workers Party is classified as a terrorist group by a number of countries
  • The fighting started after an Iraqi soldier asked the group for a permit

BAGHDAD: Two Iraqi soldiers were killed in rare clashes Sunday with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the north of the country where the group has bases, the army said overnight.
The PKK, seen as a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
It has rear bases in the Qandil mountain area of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
An Iraqi military statement said PKK fighters “attacked an army checkpoint in the (northern) Nineveh province... (and) two soldiers were killed” around 100 kilometers west of Mosul near the Syria border.
Five PKK members were wounded in the clashes which erupted when an Iraqi soldier manning the checkpoint asked the group for a permit, usually issued by Iraqi security forces, which would allow them to go across.
“It is the first time that we have confrontations of this scale in the region,” Mohammad Khalil, the mayor of the nearby city of Sinjar, told AFP.
The PKK deployment in northern Iraq has been a constant source of tension between Baghdad and Ankara, with Turkey pressing Iraq to play a bigger role in fighting the group.
Earlier this month Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said his country would carry out a joint operation with Iran against the PKK.
Soylu did not specify which PKK bases the planned operation would target but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously said it would be against militant hideouts in Iraq.
Like Turkey, Iran has for decades fought the PKK affiliate, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which also has rear bases in neighboring Iraq.
The Turkish military has often bombed PKK bases in Iraq’s mountainous regions.
In January, one person was killed when Turkish troops opened fire at Iraqi Kurds who stormed a Turkish army position in northwestern Iraq to protest the deaths of four civilians in alleged Turkish bombardment.
Baghdad summoned the Turkish ambassador while Ankara accused the PKK of having provoked the incident.
US-backed Kurdish fighters are leading the battle against the Daesh group in Syria.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 13 sec ago
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."