Despite warnings, Turkey presses ahead with assassinations of Kurdish leaders

Over the last few days Turkish forces expanded their operations against Kurdish activists, both senior leaders and fighters, in a clear message that there is no safe haven for them anymore, whether in Iraq, in Syria, inside cities or on top of mountains.

Turkey said on Thursday that its National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) had carried out an operation to assassinate a female leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in an operation in northern Iraq.

Security sources told state-run Anadolu Agency that MİT agents monitored the movements of Hatice Hazar, alias Pervin Zilan, but did not say when the killing took place.

The Anadolu Agency report stated that the MİT squad “returned safely to Turkey.” The PKK, on the other hand, has not yet made a statement.

The attack reportedly happened in the city of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, a few days after the assassination of another prominent Syrian Kurdish leader in the same Iraqi city near the Iranian border.

Observers believe that Turkey is making unremitting attacks against the Kurds, regardless of where they are and the parties that sponsor or host them. It seems that Turkey wants to demonstrate its determination to carry out its assaults despite widespread protests, including from the Iranians, Russians and Americans, who oppose Ankara's expanding influence in Kurdish areas.

Since the July 18 Tehran summit among the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran, Turkey has increased the pace of its killings in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone is made up of Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has ignored official and popular protests after targeting an Iraqi tourist site last week, when dozens of civilians were wounded and killed. Meanwhile, an increasingly weak Iraqi government has failed to pressure Ankara to agree to withdraw from Iraqi territory.

Hazar joined the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organisation in Turkey, in 1991 and was responsible for the organisation's female branch in Armenia in 2004, according to Turkish security sources. She then presided over the activities of PKK’s Iranian wing Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) in Syria in 2017.

The PKK is based in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, and is active in many cities, regions and valleys, from which it launches attacks on Turkish sites.

The most recent operation came just days after Turkish intelligence killed Kurdish leader Farhad Shibli, deputy of the joint presidency of the Autonomous Administration for North and East Syria (AANES).

The Anadolu news agency quoted Turkish security sources on Sunday saying that Shibli, nicknamed "Farhad Drake", was assigned a mission in Iraq by the PKK leadership. The sources added thathe was a close associate of PKK leader Farhad Abdi Shahin.

The AANES accused Turkey of assassinating Shibli by targeting a civilian car with a drone in Sulaymaniyah, during the Kurdish leader’s visit for medical treatment.

Ankara's recent operations carry a warning to both Iran and Kurdish authorities in Sulaymaniyah, observers say, noting Turkey’s readiness to target any Kurdish leader at any time and any place.

The anti-terrorist agency in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region said last Friday that a Turkish drone also killed four PKK militants  and wounded another in Sulaymaniyah.

The escalation comes following Ankara’s threat, nearly two months back, to launch a military campaign against two areas controlled by Kurdish forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that his country would continue to fight against terrorist organisations in northern Syria, despite international warnings.

On Thursday, Kurdish security forces also known as the Asayish in the Jazira, Euphrates and Afrin Regions announced the killing of four of their members, including three women, following a Turkish strike.

In a statement, the Asayish condemned Turkey’s ongoing aggression and said a drone strike in Raqqa’s Ain Issa town led to the “martyrdom of four people”.

In April, the Turkish Defence Ministry announced that Ankara had launched a major cross-border military offensive against PKK militants in northern Iraq.

Defence minister Hulusi Akar claimed that Turkish forces were targeting “only terrorists”, and that they took extra precautions to avoid civilian casualties and damage to cultural heritage.

The office of Iraqi President Barham Salih said it considered the Turkish offensive a threat to the country’s national security, while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said Turkey’s goal was to protect its borders.

(This article was originally published in Arab Weekly and reprinted here with permission.)

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