Kurds fight Kurds in northern Iraq, raising fears of full-blown conflict

Skirmishes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have raised fears of a full-blown conflict in northern Iraq.

The PKK has come under growing pressure in the region from a Turkish military incursion aimed at isolating its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains that straddle the border between Turkey and Iraq and has accused the KRG of working with Ankara to target its forces.

The KRG has built a close working relationship with Turkey on the basis of shared political and economic interests, most notably an oil pipeline allowing Iraqi-Kurdish authorities to market their oil exports independently of the federal government in Baghdad.

On Oct. 28, the PKK attacked a KRG pipeline near the city of Mardin in south-eastern Turkey, halting production for ten days. The already cash-strapped KRG claimed the incident cost it $100 million in revenue.

“On a daily basis, the Kurdistan Region was losing $10 million as a result of the explosion,” said member of regional parliament Lanja Dizayee, according to pro-KRG Kurdistan24.

Earlier in the month, the KRG accused the PKK of assassinating the head of a security at a border crossing in the Amedi district of Duhok, where Turkish military operations have been particularly intense.

The PKK denied involvement in the killing. But the group has previously threatened those it accuses of working with Turkey following an increasingly successful campaign of Turkish drone strikes targeting senior PKK figures in northern Iraq.

Tensions between the PKK and KRG has escalated into open warfare before, clashing during the Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. But they have also fought side by side, with PKK fighters deploying in support of the KRG to halt expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS) into northern Iraq in 2014.

The KRG has since accused the PKK of using ISIS as an opportunity to expand its presence in the region, which it is now seeking to reclaim. However, the PKK maintains that the recent encroachment of KRG forces towards its positions is aimed at facilitating Turkish aggression against the group    

“New checkpoints aim to enable a safe access for the (Turkish) ‘occupiers’,” PKK-affiliated ANF News said on Thursday.

 A new KRG-PKK conflict would bring further violence for a local population already threatened by regular Turkish and Iranian bombardment. Nearly 300,000 acres of land was burned between May and September this year as a result of military action in the border region, Dutch peace organisation PAX reported last month.

Dozens of villages in the area remain abandoned.