Turkey sends commandos into northern Iraq to battle PKK

Turkey sent troops into northern Iraq to battle militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Defence Ministry said.

The commandos, sent in by air and land, were being supported by attack helicopters, drones, F-16 fighter jets and artillery, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Operation Claw-Tiger is being carried out as part of our legitimate defence rights arising from international law against the PKK and other terrorist elements that have recently attempted to increase harassment and attacks on our police station and base areas," the ministry said.

Turkey had begun bombarding suspected positions of the PKK prior to sending in the ground forces, according to a statement on Monday. Jet fighters hit bases and destroyed caves where the PKK was hiding out. The Iraqi government slammed the attacks, saying its sovereignty was being violated.

The PKK, which has battled for political autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds for four decades at the cost of almost 40,000 lives, is labelled as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says it has the right to carry out cross-border operations to protect its security.

The Defence Ministry said it was carrying out the operation against PKK bases in Sinjar, Kandil, Karacak, Zap, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk. Artillery was also bombarding PKK positions with shells and rockets, hitting more than 150 targets, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Following the start of the initial air operations, Iraq's foreign ministry summoned Turkey's ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, on Tuesday to explain why its territories had been breached.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, head of the Arab League, also condemned the bombardments saying they were an attack on Iraqi sovereignty and an "underestimation of international law". Turkish military interventions in Iraq, Syria and Libya had become a cause for concern, he said.  

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sent troops into Syria to battle Kurdish militants and to support opposition fighters against the government of President Bashar Assad. It is also providing fighters, munitions and military know-how to the U.N.-recognised government in Tripoli, Libya, against opposition forces in the east of the country supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Meanwhile, the authorities have renewed a crackdown against political representatives of Turkey's Kurds since local elections last year, sacking and arresting mayors of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and lifting the immunity of some of its parliamentary deputies. It has charged the politicians with connections to the PKK, allegations they deny.

Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) is backed in parliament by the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which has long called for the suppression or eradication of Kurdish nationalist movements.