As Iran Hits Kurdish Foes, U.S. Also Worries About Turkey's Strikes in Iraq

As U.S. officials roundly condemn the ongoing series of Iranian strikes against Kurdish rivals in northern Iraq, Washington has also expressed concern over a separate Turkish campaign against Kurdish forces in the same region.

In the wake of the fourth and latest round of strikes against targets tied to exiled Kurdish dissident groups such as the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ground forces commander General Mohammad Pakpour hailed the results of attacks against "about 40 targets with more than 70 missiles and dozens of suicide drones, with 99% accuracy" in some areas, as reported by the Iranian Labour News Agency.

He called it the "heaviest" Revolutionary Guard missile and drone operation to date, and reiterated the elite force's warning that "our operations will continue until the separatist groups are disarmed."

The Iranian campaign has drawn criticism not only from the regional Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil and the national capital of Baghdad, but also from Washington, where State Department spokesperson Ned Price and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said they "strongly condemn" what they called on an assault on Iraq's sovereignty.

But as Iran's high-profile strikes garnered international attention, U.S. ally Turkey has continued a cross-border campaign of its own, targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) located elsewhere in northern Iraq.

"We have repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding Turkish operations in Iraq," a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek, "urging that the government of Turkey coordinate more closely with Iraqi authorities on cross-border military operations against terrorist targets."

But while the U.S. — like Iran, Turkey and a number of regional and global countries —considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, Washington did not give the same label to the parties currently under Iranian attack.

"The United States has designated the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist," the spokesperson said. "We have not designated Komalah Party of Iranian Kurdistan, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) or the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) as terrorist entities."

Turkey, strikes, against, PKK, in, northern, Iraq
A still from footage shared September 30 by the Turkish Defense Ministry shows strikes against alleged PKK sites in northern Iraq. Turkish Ministry of Defense

Komala, PDKI and the PAK have a long history of guerilla warfare against the Islamic Republic, and Iran has accused them of being behind years of attacks against security personnel. More recently, Tehran accused these groups of helping to fuel nationwide protests in response to the death of Mahsa Aminia, an Iranian woman who died last month while in law enforcement captivity. Pakpour and other Iranian officials have said that Iraq and Iraqi Kurdish authorities have not done enough to combat their presence, and he accused the U.S. of backing these organizations.

The PKK, for its part, has conducted a nearly four-decade insurgency against Turkey, which has stepped up operations in recent years in both Iraq and Syria. Ankara has also elected to take matters into its own hands, and the Turkish Defense Ministry has regularly targeted PKK positions in Iraq in a series of campaigns, the most recent of which were launched in April as Operation Claw-Lock.

Strikes have been announced in parallel with the ongoing Iranian operations, and the latest was officially reported Monday.

"Our struggle will continue with perseverance and determination until the last terrorist is neutralized!" the Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted Monday, alongside footage of what appeared to be a Bayraktar TB2 drone dropping munitions.

Days earlier, on Friday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar praised Ankara's ongoing campaign, which he said had extended nearly 90 miles into Iraqi territory.

"Wherever the terrorist is, that's where our target is," Akar said during a visit to the southeastern Turkish city of Şırnak, which is located near the border with Syria, where he also hailed Turkish efforts against the PKK.

While the U.S. has teamed up with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in both countries to fight the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Turkey has been especially critical of the Pentagon's partnership in Syria, where Ankara has accused the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and its affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) of having direct ties to the PKK.

The conflicting interests have created tensions between two NATO allies and, in his address, Akar claimed a recent deadly PKK gun attack in southern Turkey was an "America-based action." He did not specify the direct connection to the U.S., though Turkish officials have long maligned Washington's indirect ties to the PKK via the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria.

In addition to the Turkish strike in Iraq announced Monday, the Turkish Defense Ministry also said it killed "7 PKK/YPG terrorists," including a "so-called senior executive," who were said to be preparing to attack within the area of Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria. The statement was accompanied by footage of Turkish artillery and drone strikes.

That same day, the U.S. State Department's Office of the Inspector General released its Comprehensive Oversight Plan for Overseas Contingency Operations for Fiscal Year 2023, which included criticism of Turkish activities in Iraq and Syria.

The report stated that Turkish attacks in northern Syria were among those "often distracting the Coalition-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from counter-ISIS operations and jeopardizing security at detention facilities and camps housing ISIS affiliates."

"Additionally," the report added, "the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has contributed to instability in northern Iraq."

Rubble, of, Iranian, strike, in, northern, Iraq
A Kurdish man walks amid the rubble of a destroyed school following Iranian cross-border attacks in the town of Koye (Koysinjaq), about 62 miles east of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq, on October 1. Iran's Revolutionary Guard has vowed to continue missile and drones strikes in neighboring Iraq until the positions of dissident Kurdish groups were destroyed or dismantled. SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The governments of Iraq and Syria have expressed criticism of Turkish military operations in their respective countries.

Both Baghdad and Erbil most recently spoke out against Turkey's actions following a disputed strike in July that killed nine people at a resort near the northern Iraqi town of Zakho. Ankara denied any involvement in the incident, instead blaming the PKK, while Washington condemned the attack but fell short of attributing responsibility.

As tensions in the region continued to simmer Monday, which marked Iraq's National Day, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi traveled to Erbil to meet with Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani.

In addition to discussing the need for greater dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil, both men "focused on the fact that the blood and lives of Iraqis, and the preservation of public and private funds and properties, is a goal and an objective, at the same time stressing that everyone is required to cooperate with the security forces and facilitate the performance of their duty; to preserve Iraq's security and stability," according to identical statements released by both offices.

They also "discussed recent security developments and the targeting of areas in the Kurdistan region, and stressed the need to respect Iraqi sovereignty, refusing to turn Iraq into an arena for settling regional scores, and affirming the commitment of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to good-neighborly relations and that Iraqi lands are not a source of threat to neighboring countries."

Newsweek has contacted the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment.