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Iraq Struggles to Expel Kurdish Militia From the North
By Mina Aldroubi

It won't be easy for Iraq to expel the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) from the country, the head of the Turkmen Association said on Thursday.

The comment follows weeks of heightened tensions between Turkey and PKK fighters based in Sinjar province and other areas of north Iraq.

"Iraq cannot rid itself of the PKK as they are deeply rooted in the north," Sundus Abbas told The National.

"I doubt that they (PKK) have left the Qandil mountain as they have a military base there. They are also seen in Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmato and Daqooq as well as other places," Ms Abbas said.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi recently called on Kurdish insurgents in Iraq to disarm as Turkey raised the prospects of a military intervention in the country's north.

Last month Mr Al Abadi ordered security forces to take full control of Iraq's borders amid escalating tensions between Ankara and Turkey's Kurdish rebels, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"The PKK has long existed in Iraq, we welcome them as refugees, but we will not allow them to have arms," the premier said during a press conference in Baghdad.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack PKK bases in northern Iraq in retaliation for the armed group's decades-old insurgency against Ankara.

In March President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was ready to begin a military offensive in Sinjar, on the Syrian border, if Iraq didn't expel the Kurdish fighters.

"We will do what is necessary if Iraq fails in Sinjar," Mr Erdgoan said.

Parts of Sinjar became makeshift PKK bases in 2014 when the Kurdish militia launched a military operation to rescue members of the Yazidi community from an ISIS onslaught and stayed.

However, said Mr Al Abadi, "we asked them (PKK) to leave Sinjar and they did."

But Sinjar's mayor Mahma Khalil denies these reports. "Despite officially announcing their withdrawal, PKK fighters remain in Sinjar," Mr Khalil said.

Mr Khalil also denied that Turkish forces had moved towards Sinjar, despite Mr Erdogan's threats to intervene.

Mr Al Abadi also dismissed reports that any foreign forces had crossed into Iraq.

"Turkey has been shelling (PKK fighters), but, Turkish forces have not been deployed on the Iraqi border. We object to any strikes on Iraq, especially the Kurdistan region," said Mr Al Abadi. adding that "Our security forces are doing their utmost to secure all Iraqi lands and currently conducting operations in desert areas."

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, has for many years been based in Iraq's Qandil mountain range, near the border with Iran.

On Wednesday, Turkish state media reported that a solider was killed and three others were wounded in a PKK attack in Iraq's Kani Rash region.

Turkey has been fighting the PKK since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which is largely focused in Turkey's southeast.


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